The Home Study Trilogy: Episode Three
The best stories are always trilogies, aren’t they? Don’t worry, this third and final piece won’t leave you as emotionally wrecked as “Toy Story 3.” This one is happy. Don’t forget to read the first part or the second part!
She came quietly and quickly on Saturday, February 16, leaving both the crackers and cheese untouched in her wake. With fresh tulips sitting next to the unmolested chocolate assortment we’d laid out, our caseworker hugged us and said, “I just get the feeling you’re not going to have to wait very long for a baby, you two.” Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages…we are now officially two dads in waiting.
In going through our home study experience, I’ve discussed the other two big parts of the process, the forms and the essay. That left us with one final piece to the puzzle, the interviews. So let me pick up right where we left off.
I walked alone to the post office on 8th Avenue in New York City, an epic and grand building sprawled across two city blocks, clutching our home study packet. Inside, there was a check for a thousand dollars, every imaginable form and record we’d filled out, and our personal essay on being parents. I thought it would be harder to drop the envelope in the mailbox, to let it go, but once you’ve entered a post office in Manhattan, there is no opportunity to think about anything other than pure survival.
Two days later, my phone rang. A warm and soft-spoken woman was on the other end, introduced herself as Laura, and told me that she would be our case worker. We confirmed a date for our first meeting, and then the waiting game began.
Two nights prior to our meeting, while on my hands and knees scrubbing a bleach-soaked tub with an aching back, the thought dawned on me: I am my mother’s son. When I was younger, I remembered my Mom using cleaning as a way to exorcise stress and tension. When you know a person is coming into your home to make determinations on your ability to be a parent, the words “stress" and "tension” more than adequately describe the space in which we found ourselves before Laura’s first visit. Mom had it right, and our house was spotless.
With the appropriate small bites on the table, a gleaming house, and a cat who understood what was expected of him, we answered the knock at the door, and welcomed Laura into our home. Short but not diminutive, she greeted us each with a hug, and took her seat on our couch, bypassing the hors d’oeuvres.
“Which one of you is the writer?” she asked. She had been sent copies of all of my Gays With Kids articles from “A Loving Choice”, our adoption agency. She read the first two pieces of our home study trilogy, and really enjoyed it. I smiled and said, “Well, you’d better be on your best behavior today, the third piece is about you.” Boom, ice broken. We were off to the races.
For the next hour, we talked. And talked. And talked. My habit, if you’re unable to tell by now, is to talk my way through the nerves, to own the room and manage the stress. But this time, both Dom and I shared the room, talking about our families, and our childhoods, and our expectations of parenthood. It was easy, with Laura we felt comfortable and safe and protected. And while our cat sat perfectly at the window, meowing quietly and sweetly to the birds outside (as rehearsed), we continued our meeting.
We worked through the various questions from our autobiographical essay, she asked us about the preferred race of our future child, which gender we thought we might want, about the circumstances in which we might say no to a possible placement. She stopped us halfway through the meeting.
“I just have to say, I have done a lot of these interviews, and I can just feel this sense of trust between the two of you, this amazing partnership and I just have a feeling, you’re not going to have to wait very long for a baby.”
Well, Dom started to tear up immediately. Which then caused Laura to start to tear up. I had to wrangle the hormones and say, “Alright, you two need to lock it up. Lock it up right now.” Laughs, again. Was it possible that this process might be, dare I say it, easy?
After touring our home, and with our first visit concluded, we hugged and scheduled a follow-up meeting for February 28. Let the home-cleaning rigmarole continue.
Having left our elegant food selection uneaten during meeting one, we scaled back for meeting two. A simple goat cheese with jalapeño jelly, nine-grain crackers, and fresh grapes. Lit candles in the dining room and living room, and PBS playing quietly on the television in the background. (Although it was “Celtic Woman,” I’m afraid that Laura might have thought poorly of us; I know I did.) A pitcher of water and fresh seltzer with sliced limes. Old friends at this point, I wasn’t nervous about this meeting, not at all. Having once again scrubbed every inch of the house, with 35 minutes left to spare before our meeting, I realized I ought to scrub myself. As I peeled back the shower curtain, I heard a knock from downstairs. Laura had come early.
Now, because my mother is Polish, I feel no shame in using the term “Polish shower” to describe my three-minute ablutions. It was like the scene in “Home Alone” when Catherine O’Hara’s character Kate realizes that she’s overslept, and the fast-forwarded footage betrays the frenzy that descends upon their house. Two swipes of deodorant under the arms, a third more strategically, a spritz of subtle but handsome cologne sprayed into the air for a walk-through, dry hair run wet under the faucet and furiously towel-dried and hand-styled, I walked calmly down the stairs.
We met for a half hour, and heard another knock on the door. Our neighbor Donna and her little boy Rocco (with whom I imagine you are quite familiar) were coming over to wish us good luck in the few minutes that preceded our originally scheduled meeting time. Sitting in an armchair directly in sight of our front door, Rocco ran across the house and straight to me, flinging himself into my arms for a swoop into the air, a quick tickle, and a hug. If there was ever a moment that appeared to be manufactured exclusively for the purposes of selling a caseworker on my ability to parent, this would have been it. We were one Disney-scored musical number away from an unforgettable moment.
Rocco played with the toys from the toy box we keep in our house for him, avoided eye contact with Laura at all costs while walking the perimeter of the room (she’s a stranger, after all), and giggled his way into all of our hearts, Laura’s included.
After Donna and Rocco left, we asked Laura about the next steps, about what the road forward would look like. She said, “I’ll have the next two weeks to write the most glowing and glorious report about the kinds of Dads I know you’ll be, and then the agency will get a copy, and you’ll get a copy to sign off on. After that, you’ll build your profile with the agency, and you’ll start being shown to birth mothers.” We hugged her for what felt inside like the thousandth time, and wished her well on her way back home.
With the door closing behind her, and the doors opening in front of us, I hugged my husband, my partner. And now, it stands to reason, we wait. We wait for tomorrow, for the phone to ring, for The Next Thing on the increasingly short List Of Things to happen and move us forward.
We can wait. There’s a cheese platter with our name on it.