The Social Worker

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This essay originally appeared on the Respite Redefined Newsletter, which you can sign up for here.

The social worker is the person who decides the fate of our family.  She’s the one that presents us in the match meetings and to other social workers, telling them about our family and how we’ll be a great fit for children in the system.  No matter how much paperwork we complete, no matter how long I spend dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, no matter how pretty Future Children’s bedroom is, no matter how prompt or late I am in replying to her emails, it’s all up to her.  She’s the one that has spent just a few hours with us over the course of the last few weeks and now she’s supposed to know everything there is to know about us. And she surely does know a lot.

She knows all the practical things, like how many bedrooms are in our home and if our first aid kit is locked away.  She knows where we sleep and that one of my daughters has a pink room and the other has a floral comforter. She knows that our kitchen is tiny but our living room is large and we have a playroom in our basement.  She knows by looking around our house that I can’t keep up with the laundry situation and that I will most likely always have dirty dishes in the sink, but she also knows that even though we have two dogs I always have clean floors.  Well, mostly.

She knows a lot of things about our past, since that’s what helps shape our character into the humans we are today.  She knows I have one sibling and that my husband has three. She knows I’m from Texas and he’s from Maine. She knows I grew up in a large house with two teachers and that he grew up in a smaller house with a machinist and a secretary.  She knows that when I was five I wanted to be a teacher and she knows that I achieved that goal. She knows that he wanted to be a pastor when he grew up and that even though he isn’t one any longer he does like his current job. She knows that before we ever met we wanted a large family that we grew through adoption.

She knows a lot of things about our marriage.  She knows we got married on a Saturday night in the backyard of my childhood home where I wore a long dress and he didn’t wear a tie.  She knows that we were both young and naive about where life was going to take us. She knows we’ve moved eight times in the last nine years and she knows that we’re tired of moving.  She knows that year five of marriage was pretty hard and that we make sure to talk every Sunday night about our week ahead so we’re always on the same page about our schedules.

She knows that I’m the talker and he’s not.  She knows that I’m the worrier and he’s even-keeled.  She knows that I would love a baby at some point and she knows that neither one of us really and truly care what age our next child is.  She knows that we both love a good movie and a good book. She knows that I’m indoorsy and he’s outdoorsy but we both equally love staying in on a Friday night and going on a weekend camping trip.

She knows a lot of these things because we’ve had to tell her.  She’s had to pry and pry and pry into our lives until it was awkward for all of us.  That’s how she knows that we lost a baby during our first adoption process and it was really really hard.  It’s how she knows that getting our first kids put us both through post partum depression because we just weren’t expecting what was going to happen.  It’s how she knows that we persevered well through our first unemployment season but that the second one almost broke us. It’s how she knows that we’ve wanted our next future children for a long time but that we waited until we were in a good place to bring them home.

She knows all this and thus our fate rests in her hands.  She holds all the power over who will come next into our home.  She gets to present all this information in the match meetings and to social workers with the idea of making us out to be the perfect family for that kid.  And so I have to trust this woman, who I have known only a few weeks, who has only been inside our home a handful of times, who knows a lot about me even though I know nothing about her, and she has now become the most important person in my life.

How am I supposed to trust that this woman whom I barely know will get all the things right when presenting our family?  How can I trust that even though she knows hard things and practical things that she also knows the most important things?

Does she know that the love for my current children overpowers me sometimes?  When we’re out running errands I just sometimes stop and look at them and marvel at how beautiful they are and how lucky I am to have them.  Does she know that my current children have become my best little friends? Oftentimes I have tears streaming down my face because they have made me laugh so hard.  And I can always count on them to hangout with me when I’m bored and lonely.

Does she know that though I have never even met Future Children that my love for them overwhelms me?  My husband and I are often on our knees every night praying that they are loved and taken care of that they know they’re wanted even if they don’t know by whom.  Does she know that I cannot wait to cry laugh at their jokes? That I cannot wait to hangout with them when I’m bored and lonely?

Does she know that a part of me feels missing because I know someone is out there who belongs in our family but I do not know who that person is?  Does she know it kills me that I’m not the one kissing the boo-boos and bandaging the scrapes and feeding them cereal for dinner? Does she know how much I’m worry about them?  Are they getting enough sleep? Are they getting enough food? Are their clothes warm enough? Did they get what they wanted at Christmas? Is someone giving them enough hugs? Is someone wiping away their tears?  Are their teachers nice to them? Are they doing well in school?

I don’t know how to convey this to her, this social worker I barely know, without looking like an utterly crazy person.  So instead I tell her all the things she wants to know and then some–because I’m the talker–and I answer her emails as quickly as I receive them.  I struggle with getting the paperwork in on time but I make sure all the i’s are dotted and all the t’s are crossed. I try to make it look like I’m being patient, even though I wish I could drive to her office and stand behind her and look over her shoulder as she puts our family profile together.  I’m working really hard to trust this stranger to fight for our family and present us in the perfect way at the perfect moment, but it’s really hard.

I’m glad she doesn’t know how badly I bite my fingernails when I’m worried or how I bake cookies and stress eat the batter or how I’ve stopped sleeping at night.  No, those are things she doesn’t need to know. She just needs to know everything else.