The first month was the roughest. We had to arrange three funerals and get Chez Willowby ready for sale. And it was toughest on Kenny. Thank goodness for Mr. Langtree.
One day shortly after the last funeral Kenny came home from school with a slip of paper Peter and I to sign. It was your standard parental permission slip for a school trip. You know the kind. You probably brought dozens home. As Kenny’s godparents, we didn’t give the matter a second thought. We should have. The school recognized Trina’s letter to us and her signature. However, godparents are not legally recognized as parents or guardians. Godparents are simply a religious or spiritual concoction. Godparents have no legal standing at all. After meeting with my aunts’ lawyer, Mr. Langtree, he explained our options to Peter and me which were next to non-existent. Trina wanted us to raise her son. A godparent has no legal standing to do anything for the child. To sign a simple parental permission slip, we had to adopt Kenny. We wanted to adopt Kenny but first, we had to grapple with a daunting question – did he want us?
Trina helped a lot by naming us specifically, but a godparents role is largely ceremonial. We wanted to change that.
We met in Mr. Langtrees office. We didn’t dress formally. He asked us to dress casually and for Kenny to do the same. As we entered his legal office Kenny’s eyes went incredibly wide.
“Wow, he sure has a lot of books”. Kenny was right. There were hundreds of legal tomes on shelves which seemed to be everywhere. There were some computer terminals but Kenny was impressed with the books which seemed to stretch on forever. As Mr. Langtree came out of his office he saw the fascination and awe on Kennys face.
“And you must be Kenny. How many books do you think there are?”
Kenny looked at all the books studying each one. “A thousand?”
Mr. Langtree chuckled. “No, good guess though. Three times as many”
Kenny took that information and did what he could with it. “Wow, you have three thousand books?”
Mr. Langtree laughed, tussled Kennys hair then put his hands in his pockets. “Not quite. Would you believe me if I told you I have three thousand and ninety-seven books?”
His eyes just about popped out of his head. I gently pushed him towards the formal looking office. He looked at every inch of the office and saw more books. But the part he liked best was the leather chairs. He climbed into one and looked very comfortable. The bankers light on the desk somehow looked out of place. So did the rice paper wallpaper.
As Mr. Langtree sat down he pulled out a small file folder and a large yellow legal pad and put them on his desk. He made a few notes, tore the pages from the legal pad and placed them inside the file folder. He then tossed the legal pad beside his inbox. He looked right at Peter and me.
“Okay, let’s see if I’ve got this right. Trina Willowby, deceased, asked you both to raise her son. She asked you in a letter. But right now you’re not the legal guardians. So you’re looking at adoption. Have I got that part right?” Peter answered.
“I know we’re only godparents, but I think we should make it legal. We can’t do anything a parent-” Kenny suddenly gave Peter the eye. Peter put his hand up and told him to relax. “Relax Kenny. Nobodies trying to take the place of your mom or your grandparents”. He then continued talking to Mr. Langtree. “As I was saying we can’t do anything a parent or guardian can. Cassie and I would like to legally adopt Kenny. Its fine with us if he wants to keep his surname or he wants to take my name. We just want him to be safe and have a home. A home with two people who love him and can act as his guardians till he’s of age. His mother asked us to raise him. Not Children’s Aid. Us.”
Mr. Langtree made some more notes on his legal pad then looked up at us.
“Normally what you want to do would be very difficult. But Trina made things much easier. She put her wishes on paper and specifically named both of you. The court will rule it what it believes are the best wishes of the child. But right now I would like to talk to Kenny. Alone.”
As Peter and I shuffled out the office Mr. Langtree asked to see the letter from Trina outlining her wishes regarding Kenny. I reached into my purse and handed it to him.
“Is this the only copy?” he asked.
I nodded my head.
“I’ll have ten copies made that will be certified and notarized. You’ll need every copy until the court awards you full custody. It’s not a sure bet but the court rarely changes the wishes of the mother. But before it does grant you custody a home check made by the court. They just want to make sure its a safe and happy home.”
Mr. Langtree closed the door to his office. I had no idea adoption could be so involved. And a home visit. I don’t know why but idea terrified me.
A few weeks later a young woman knocked on the door of Casa Christopher. As soon as I answered she pulled out her identification.
“Hello, Mrs. Christopher. My name is Lucy Singh. The court has appointed me to make out a report concerning the home life for the minor named Kenny Willowby. Is he at home?”
“Kenny is still in school. He won’t be home for another half hour.”
“That’s just perfect. I’ll just look around and make some notes. This is the sort of place my husband and I are looking for. We don’t have any children yet but we want to change that.”
Miss Singh looked in cupboards and made notes. She looked at what I was wearing and made notes. She went over to Peters study where he was working on the latest batch of rewrites requests from Random House. She went right into his study without being invited. Then she started pestering him with questions.
“I understand you had throat cancer a year ago. Does that affect the way you and Kenny communicate?”.
“Not really. He knows my voice has good days and bad days. If he can’t understand what I’m saying he hands me the iPad. Typing out what I’m saying almost always takes longer than saying it but sometimes ordinary words can’t convey the emotion behind the sentence. And that’s where confusion can set in.” said Peter.
“How does Kenny react when this happens?”
“Kenny knows that not being able to say what I want to say is very frustrating for me. If he doesn’t understand what I’m saying verbally he usually hands me the iPad and I “dumb it down” for him using much more simplistic language. He’s become more patient with me and will do his best to make things easier for me. Right now if we go into a restaurant and the radio is blaring away he knows my voice can’t compete with that and speaks for me.”
“Where does the boy play?”
Peter took exception to Miss Singh referring to Kenny as “the boy”.
“I believe you meant to say “Kenny” or “your godson”. I know you’ve probably got dozens of these reports to fill out but how would you feel if somebody called you “the woman.”
“I understand your anger. If-”
“Miss Singh, I don’t think you do. Firstly, I’m not angry. What you’re hearing in my voice is simple frustration. It’s not anger. What you may not understand is that our relationship with Kenny didn’t begin until last Christmas. First, he drafted Cassie as his “hot looking” aunt. Then he realized that when Cassie and I married I would be his uncle. Then four months later when his mother and grandparents passed away and Cassie and I were on our honeymoon we discovered we were now his godparents. I went from friend to uncle to godparent in a dizzying number of months. So I’m a bit touchy about titles you give anyone.”
Miss Singh adjusted an armload of case folders, and Peter showed her the basement where all Kennys toys were. She was surprised by the size of the slot car set.
“I can remember my brother having one of these only it wasn’t so big! He never let me use it.” Peter saw her eyeing it and offered her the chance to fulfill a childhood dream.
“I really shouldn’t…”
“I won’t tell him if you don’t”
“Oh, what the heck. What do I do?”
At this point, I came down the stairs. Miss Singh was holding a hand controller. That’s when I spoke up.
“Peter and Kenny spend a lot of time down here. This game is great for sharpening eye-hand coordination. And they’re always changing the track configuration. Sometimes is easy and sometimes it’s not. And it’s never the same shape two weeks in a row.”
After a short race (which Peter let her win) she was off.
Three weeks passed between meeting Miss Singh and our next phone call from Mr. Langtree. We were close to chewing furniture we were so anxious. So when the call came I pounced on the phone in the kitchen and Peter answered from the study. More revisions. More detail. More clarifications.
“Hello” I bellowed into the phone by accident. I didn’t mean to be so loud. I was just nervous when I looked at the caller ID.
Because of the damage done by the cancer, Peter developed his own rather unique way of answering the phone. It was based on the advice Dr. Willowby gave Peter not long ago. “When you are using your phone try to use words of one or two syllables. You’ll put less stress on your vocal cords” Over time through a great deal of experimentation Peter settled on “‘ lo, yes?”.
“Great, got you both. I got news and a question. Which do you want first”
We hadn’t heard from him in some time so I barked the word “news”.
“Well, the news is that the judge was all set to rule in your favor. The home visit report was as good as it could be. Miss Singh was more than satisfied your place would provide a safe, happy, loving home for Kenny.”
“But…” uttered Peter from the study.
“Some fellow named James Wilson is challenging your petition to adopt Kenny. He claims he is Kennys biological father.”
“Oh shit!” I said. I thought I said it quietly but not as quietly as I hoped.
“That exactly what I first thought. Then I remembered Trina had him declared legally dead. Despite what the movies tell you it’s bloody hard to come back from the dead. Now before either one of you get your stomachs in an uproar I’ve finally located Kennys birth record. He was born in Lindsay Memorial as we suspected. And James Wilson is listed as the father. Can both of you be in court tomorrow?”
“What’s going to happen?” asked Peter a millisecond before I could.
“I’m going to take this nasty little troll apart. I’m going to expose him for the money-hungry bastard he is.”
“How do you know he’s money-hungry,” asked Peter. Mr. Langtree then put forth a litany of reasons he doesn’t care for James Wilson.
“When all three wills finish going through probate Kenny is going to be rather wealthy. James Wilson was barely making a living working on a steamer in France. But this character has more strikes against him than he knows. First, he abandoned his family. Then he didn’t pay a cent in child support. To make matters worse he left the country illegally. His record of bad decisions doesn’t stop there. He flew to France under a false passport. When he surfaced again he became employed under a false name. He was never legally employed in France. In the past ten years, he’s incurred some rather significant debts while in France. This guy must be a product of swimming in the shallow end of the gene pool. This guy hasn’t paid taxes in France and France wants their money. With interest! And the Feds want tax money too. If he gets custody of Kenny he’ll be in charge of all Kenny’s money till Kenny comes of legal age.”
Not quite sure what I was hearing I stopped Mr. Langtree dead in his tracks.
“Maybe I’m missing something but why do you want Peter and me there?”
Mr. Langtree sounded winded. And a little frustrated with me.
“Cassie, I want you and Peter there for moral support. Plus if the judge can see your faces it could go a long way to gaining custody. Right now you’re nothing but faceless names. It’ll help a helluva lot if the judge can put a face to a name.”
The judge came into the courtroom and it was obvious she was not happy. The bailiff called the court to order. The judge started speaking.
“Anyone seated in the visitor’s gallery will notice I’m not wearing a smile. I was all set to make my ruling and write my judgment when I got a surprise. And anybody that knows me will know I don’t care surprises of any kind. James Wilson, are you represented by counsel?”
A man in an ill-fitting suit stood up.
“No madam judge.”
The judge closed her eyes and started muttering. She turned and looked right at him.
“For future reference whenever you address me you will use the words, your honor. Is that understood?”
The judge was clearly upset by this response and started shaking her head.
“I fear I already know the answer to this question but where is your lawyer?” asked the judge looking very drawn and tired.
Mr. Wilson picked up some papers and appeared to shuffle them. It looked like he was hoping for his lawyer to drop out the pages he picked up.
“I don’t have one ma’am”.
“These are adoption proceedings Mr. Wilson and not traffic court! You cannot represent yourself! You have a choice before you. You have one hour to get a lawyer or you can withdraw your petition to assume the guardianship of the minor Kenneth Willowby. Will you have a lawyer in one hour?” the judge demanded.
Mr. Langtree approached the bench and a slowly simmering judge. The two spoke in hushed tones. The judge raised her eyebrows then cradled her head with her hand. When they were through talking he rushed to where Peter and I were sitting.
“If it’s alright with you two I just volunteered to be Mr. Wilson’s lawyer. There won’t be a conflict of interest. I just ask him questions. Hopefully just enough to hang himself and get this matter settled today. I can do this but the judge wants me to get your permission first so it’s up to both of you. But before you decide I’d like one of you to get Kenny. He should be here. I want the judge to see him and him to see his biological father.” I held on to Peter’s hand so tightly there was sweat on his brow. Peter nodded and simply said “GO”. I was a little more eloquent. “Destroy the little twerp”.
The judge had a glass of water, composed herself, then addressed Mr. Wilson.
“Mr. Wilson, the lawyer for the Christopher family has graciously volunteered to be your lawyer. All he is going to do is ask you a few questions to see how if you are fit to be a parent. But before we proceed this court will adjourn for one hour.”
As soon as the judge went into her chambers Peter bolted. He went to get Kenny. He knew the school would object but when they found out he had been asked to appear in family court but they would have to let him go. Mr. Langtree even provided a summons for Kenny if needed. I cooled my heels in the hall of the courthouse. I was as nervous as I was the first time I knocked on Peters door. Mr. Langtree sat beside me and tried to calm me down.
“Relax Cassie. I’m just going to ask him a few questions”.
I turned and grabbed the lapels of his jacket. There were tears in my eyes and I started crying.
“I love him more than you can know. I just want this to be over and take him to home. Is that so much to ask?” He turned his head and started looking down the hall for Peter and Kenny.
“I’ll wait here. You go into the ladies room and compose yourself. When we go back in I want the judge to see what a close, loving family you are. As god is my witness I’m going to do my best to make sure Kenny is your son by dinner time.”
Peter and Kenny came running up the stairs. They went into the men’s room to make themselves presentable. Peter mopped the sweat from his brow then from Kenny’s forehead. Peter put on a new tie and Kenny put on a permanent press shirt and tie. When they emerged Mr. Langtree gave them both another inspection.
“OK, you’re to go”. Then the chimes outside the courtroom went off. Our hour was up.
We entered the courtroom and took our seats. We reminded Kenny not to say a word. Mr. Langtree came into the courtroom and placed his attaché case on the tabletop before him. Then the judge came back in. The bailiff swore us in. Mr. Wilson was nowhere to be seen. Then the judge spoke.
“Mr. Langtree, do you have any idea just where Mr. Wilson might be?”
Mr. Langtree rose from his seat, buttoned his jacket, and addressed the judge.
“No, your honor I don’t.”
“He is now testing the patience of this court. If he is not in this room in ten minutes a bench warrant will be issued for his immediate arrest and his petition for guardianship of the minor know as Kenneth Willowby tossed out.”
I started looking at Kenny and my watch. After five minutes had passed Mr. Wilson oozed in mildly intoxicated. Not a good thing to do at all. The judge addressed Mr. Wilson.
“Mr. Wilson. Are you intoxicated?”
“To the gills babe, to the gills”.
The judge was already simmering but Mr. Wilson’s answer brought her to a fast boil.
“That’s it!. You have reached the limits of my patience. I find you in contempt of this court and its proceedings. I’m fining you twenty-five thousand dollars and dismissing your petition for guardianship. You have the option of paying the fine now. If you cannot pay you’re looking at a jail term. Which is going to be?”
“Which way to the dungeon?”he sang melodically.
“One last thing Mr. Wilson. You are not to contact Mr. Christopher, Mrs. Christopher, or their son in any way, ever! Do you understand me?” she said slowly.
Mr. Wilson pulled a bottle from his pocket and took a drink.
“Keep your hair on. Don’t get your panties in a bunch. Don’t say anything to those folks over there. Gotcha. Mums the word.”
A bailiff walked over to Mr. Wilson and led him out of the room where he was handcuffed, fingerprinted, and photographed. A boy should never see his father handcuffed. The judge then spoke directly to us.
“On behalf of the Family Court of Ontario, I must apologize to you for what you have witnessed. I also welcome you to the family of parents. It gives me great pride to grant you full guardianship of Kenny. Kenny, have you decided what your last name will be?
“You bet. I’m a Christopher like my mom and dad!”
I started hugging my son and bawling my eyes out. Then the judge spoke at Peter and me.
“Mr. And Mrs. Christopher. As a parent I can tell you they grow up fast. So make the most of it.”
We had a celebratory dinner at Gelert Gardens. On the way back I was in the back seat. I noticed that Kenny smelled a bit ripe. No doubt it was from all the tension. I laid down my first parental edict. “You, master Kenneth, are going to have a bath when we get home. You smell”. Kenny tried protesting but it was to no avail. “Aw Gee Mom!” I’ve never heard words so sweet.
I’m going to recharge my batteries, bury my moms ashes, and take a rest. I’ll be back at the end of September or early October.