Here I am again, coming to you from my familiar plastic garden chair at Play Hard soft-play centre. As usual, I'm sat strategically towards the back of the room, tablet computer in one hand, rather nice coffee (in an actual ceramic mug) in the other. Richard and Lyall are performing front somersaults dangerously fast on the bouncy castle, their little heads whizzing towards the floor and beneath their legs at quite an astonishing speed. Every so often I put down my tablet and give them an enthusiastic wave along with a slightly camp 'Oooo' expression.
It's lovely and quiet after school at Play Hard, just three or four families and about fifteen children here this afternoon. A young looking woman, probably about twenty years old, along with her gaggle of five little girls have decided to sit right next to me. I mean, there's probably about forty available tables, yet she's parked up right next to my favourite table, sitting within a foot of my chair. Every time she swishes her long hair it goes dangerously close to my coffee, which I've now moved right to the far edge of the table. A few minutes ago, one of her girls, about five years old, dashed over, clutching what I thought was a sanitary towel. "Mommeh!", "Mommeh" she shouted as she ran over towards our tables. On arrival she grabbed a chair from my table and sat sideways on it, in-between me and her mother. The girl shook her long sweaty brown hair, swishing it against my shoulder. I tutted and moved away a little. Snatching the pad thing out of her daughter's hand, the woman peeled off the back of the pad and slapped it onto her daughter's upper arm. Ah, I thought, it must be one of those temporary tattoos. In the knowledge that I will also be presented with one of these dreadful tattoos by Richard or Lyall at some point, I decided to give said harassed looking mother the benefit of the doubt.
What happened next unfortunately is something I cannot unsee. I looked on in astonishment as the woman took a deep breath and then spat onto the pad on her daughter's arm, bent forward and began to lick frantically (yes, with her tongue) at the pad on the young girl's upper arm as though it were an inside-out empty crisp packet (something else I've witnessed a few times at Play Hard). Naturally I attempted to record a video on my phone but the girl's arm and licking mother were hidden by the angle of the girl's chair. After a couple of minutes, the woman carefully peeled back the paper pad, looking extremely proud of herself, and said (out loud) "Awwww, Britneh, it's a lickle devil. Tha' is absolute-leh stunnin.". Britney dashed back into the huge soft-play, scratching compulsively at her arm, her mother screaming at the top of her lungs "Leave your fuckin' arm alone, Britneh!". My boys heard the swearing and looked over to see what the commotion was about. I slowly shook my head at them disapprovingly with frowned eyebrows - a gesture that any careful parent will know to universally mean 'ignore the bad language'. The woman turned to look at me, rolled her eyes and said, "Fuckin' kids, eh?". She then produced a cigarette from behind her ear and wandered off towards the entrance.
Anyway, that was a huge digression from what I intended to be a blog installment about a marvellous event in the adoption process that we were lucky enough to experience last week; the Celebratory Hearing.
The legal adoption process is lengthy; our process was delayed by objections and legal appeals by the children's birth family and all manner of other unexpected obstacles. So, once the Judge recommended during the final hearing that we are perfectly matched to spend the rest of our lives together, there was a phenomenal feeling of relief; an Adoption Order was placed and our happy new family was offered a Celebratory Hearing in the local Court.
We weren't really sure what to expect from a Celebratory Hearing. In our imagination, like a big budget legal drama, we would be ushered into a large old-fashioned wooden magistrates courtroom where there would be some kind of registration process; signing of paperwork and perhaps a series of questions from a serious looking judge who eventually would bash his gavel (I Googled 'Judge's hammer') and deliver the sentence of a happy life-time together.
In reality, the hearing turned out to be fantastically fun.
Looking absolutely adorable in their new dapper little designer waistcoats and bow ties, Lyall and Richard were invited to sit at the front row of a small modern court room, which fundamentally resembled a lecture theatre, with three rows of long office tables, facing a raised wooden desk, a coat of arms on the wall. Tom and I along with our parents (the boys' proud grandparents), our social worker Michelle and some close family friends sat alongside and behind the boys. Between us we filled all the seats in the room so essentially it appeared as though the two little boys were on trial, like a pair of miniature grinning little crims. We were instructed to sit-put for five minutes while the judge prepared his papers. During the wait, Lyall discovered that his enormous chair could spin around, so he spun around in his chair like a whirling dervish for the full five minutes. I sat a few chairs away, attempting to catch his glance, furiously shaking my head at him each time his little grinning face whizzed past. Meanwhile, Richard grabbed hold of the large metal microphone on the desk infront of him and was happily miming the words to Whitney Houston's One Moment In Time (the current favourite) with a huge smile on his face.
The judge finally appeared from a door at the front and took a seat at his wooden desk. He was a smiling version of precisely what we'd imagined; an older gentleman in full robes and judge's wig. He proceeded to ask the boys a couple of questions about their new family, to which they answered beautifully (thank god!) and managed not to mention any accounts of nosebleeds or running around nude which in our imagination may have alerted some kind of last minute dreadful intervention. The judge ended his questioning by asking the boys whether they like cuddly toys, to which Lyall proudly announced in his lovely regional accent "I only have one cuddly toy called Father Christmas who's a rhino because I'm not allowed them because I throw them out windows but Richard's got two", at which I just smiled politely at the judge with shrugged shoulders, not really knowing how to respond. Luckily, my momentary turmoil was quickly interrupted as the judge revealed two beautiful white teddy bears from beneath his desk. Asking the boys to make their way up to his desk to receive the teddy bears, up they went, followed by the whole party of grandparents, friends, Michelle and me and Tom for a privileged look down upon the courtroom from the judge's 'bench' (again, Googled that one). Each of us had a go in the judge's chair and posed for a photograph. I was even lucky enough to try on his wig, much to everyone's enjoyment.
After a goodbye from the judge, we all made our way back into the lobby. Our wonderful social worker hugged Tom and I and then the boys and said farewell for the final time; an emotional goodbye to someone who's guided us gracefully through the whole turbulent adoption process. We'll miss her.
So far, the Celebratory Hearing was collectively one of the best days of our lives.
I dedicate this blog post to Michelle, our fantastic social worker. Michelle, if you're reading this (I bloody hope you are!), we can't thank you enough. x