By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
For nearly three weeks after David Jr. left the hospital, Tiffany did not see him. She hadn't seen Martin in more than a month, and Martin and David Jr. had never seen each other. At an August 8 hearing, Magistrate Kathleen Janski asked the parents' newly assigned caseworker how that happened. Kathy McGirt told her there hadn't been anyone to supervise a visit, but that she would oversee the first visit with the baby herself.
Two days later, David was nervous as he walked toward the DDHS building with his wife. He turned back toward the car once, then stayed to finish his cigarette while Tiffany went inside. He was worried about the visits. His older son was already confused. He didn't understand why he wasn't with his parents. Was he going to think they loved the new baby more, that they'd chosen a new baby over him?
They entered a lobby where McGirt was waiting with David Jr. She led them to a maze of mini-living rooms divided by short walls. Their room had teddy bears on the throw rug, Raggedy Andy peeking through the bars of a crib, and a rocking chair with one spoke missing. The parents sat on a loveseat with the baby while the caseworker filled them in on his health. He was getting physical and occupational therapy and working on his feeding. Sometimes he forgot to close his mouth. He wasn't sleeping very well.
David laid his son against his chest. The baby clenched one tiny fist around a piece of his father's shirt. "I sure hope he's getting lots of love," Tiffany said.
After McGirt informed Tiffany of her new visitation schedule, Tiffany wanted to know why she could only see Martin once a week.
"That is all we're able to do for transportation right now."
"So it's Martin's loss that you don't have proper transportation set up," she said, raising her voice slightly.
"It's not something I feel comfortable talking about while you're here with your baby," McGirt told her.
David flashed his wife a look. Reluctantly, she let the subject drop.
When the baby started to cry, she rocked him while David stroked his head. "You just don't feel good, do you?" she said. "He's got withdrawals; you can tell by his chin." She whispered to him how handsome he was, that everything would be okay.
A few days later, Tiffany was back in the waiting room at DDHS, sitting beside the foster mom who had been raising her baby. Tiffany attempted small talk while she tried to figure out how to tell the son she hadn't seen in a month that he had a baby brother. When the door opened, a cute kid with blond hair and a bright-orange T-shirt yelled, "Mommy!" and ran to her. She picked him up and started showing him the case of Hot Wheels and other toys she'd brought for him to play with. Then she crouched down beside him, next to the baby in his chair. "Meet your little brother; it's your little brother," she said a few times, trying to get him excited. Martin seemed uninterested. Looking around, he reached for his mom's ear and cupped his hands around it to whisper something.
"Oh, I love you," she said, hugging him.
Three weeks later, at the August 31 hearing, Judge Dana Wakefield tells the parents that reunification is a possibility, that they have ten weeks to prove themselves. McGirt recommends Tiffany for parenting classes and intensive outpatient drug treatment that entails ten hours of group therapy a week. The couple volunteers for marriage counseling, and David continues what he's been doing for weeks -- juggling a packed schedule of drug treatment, working full-time and going to school part-time.
By October, they had been sticking to the plan, and David enjoyed unsupervised visits with Martin. Tiffany was allowed supervised visits at home. She saw each child for two hours twice a week, once together at DDHS and separately at home. At his first time home in more than a year, Martin told his mom that he hated her for making him miss her so long. He threw a fit when it was time to leave, saying he didn't want to come back if he would have to leave again. But the following week's visits were better. At DDHS, Martin started calling his brother "my baby" and carefully looking after him, even asking another family if they could please quiet down so his baby could sleep. His parents invented a silly-walk contest to get him out of the building with a smile on his face.
On a recent Saturday-afternoon visit, mother and son made brownies, read books and played with toy cars on a miniature city, creating make-believe scenarios for each other. When it was time to go, Tiffany and David made funny faces so Martin would laugh instead of cry. Mom and Dad buckled their son into a car seat together. They were still waving as the car faded from view.
The parents were hopeful about their upcoming hearing. A new race-car bed was already waiting in Martin's room.