When I was very young, 3 or 4 or so, I started to have a recurring nightmare about being chased and caught by an extremely frightening bear with exaggerated fangs and angry red eyes. After following a fairly basic pattern of running and hiding and near misses that paralyzed me with terror before the inevitable capture, the dream always ended with my parents swooping in and literally beating the stuffing out of the bear to save me. I was quite small and had limited experience with bears of any kind, so my nightmares weren’t exactly spot-on realistic.
The takeaway from every single occurrence of that dream for me, apart from the fact that I apparently had the original idea for a Björk video more than a decade before it was filmed, was that my parents would always make sure I was safe. Even if they had to fight big scary bears. In my young mind, the bears were just one more part of the parental job description, like reading bedtime stories or potty training.
Put a pin in that, it might be relevant later.
Earlier this week, I went to the juvenile courthouse and picked up the paperwork that names us official guardians for the boys. Their parents still have custody and that’s not going to change, but we now have a court document signed by a judge that says whenever we run into something that needs approval from a parent or legal guardian, we can act as the “or”. We had been talking with their parents over the last year or so about a power of attorney or something similar that would allow us to take care of some things when the kids are with us but their parents aren’t available.
After talking to some people we know around town, though, we’ve learned that there are some school systems that refuse to accept certain legal documents. We happen to live in a part of the state where the department of education does that. I’m not sure how that works exactly because there’s a lot of evidence across the country that shows what happens when people choose to ignore legal documents, but I digress.
On a practical level, this will eliminate a tremendous number of headaches when we take them to the doctor to help out, if they need something done for school. They’ve certainly spent enough time visiting since they left the system that it will save time, and it takes a load off of my mind that I didn’t even know was there when I think about the times they’ve gone on vacation with us and the trips we might take in the future. We never plan for things to go wrong, but if we had been in a situation where one of them had needed to see a doctor on a trip that could have involved more complications than we’d want to deal with when one of the kids needs attention. “Are you his parents then?” Now we’ve got an answer with some legal weight to it that will head off the long list of things that they can’t do without parental consent.
I’m a little bit proud of myself that I haven’t said that out loud in any of the situations where I’ve been called upon to present the paperwork. It has however been less than a week, so I’m not making any promises. Interestingly, apart from requiring our signatures alongside the birth parents and sitting in an office for an hour or more discussing the situation while the forms were prepared there was very little else involved. If we hadn’t all been in agreement, there would have been a hearing and potentially lawyers involved, but then if we hadn’t all agreed on the subject it’s not the sort of situation where we would have filed the paperwork in the first place.
Did you know that the same forms we filled out to make us legal guardians are used in cases of abuse and neglect to petition for custody? I can’t imagine that causing any confusion.
Beyond the logical reasons for establishing guardianship and their parents wanting to make arrangements for us to take care of the kids in case anything happens to them (except nothing’s allowed to happen to them, as I continually remind everyone involved), there’s something else at work that makes this kind of a big deal.
While the custodial parents can override the guardians when there’s a disagreement and can revoke guardianship which makes sense because they’re the parents, they’re putting it in writing that they trust us to take care of the most precious things in their lives. I have a certain level of appreciation for the significance of that statement. Even as Rent-a-Dad, papa, Uncle B, someone who’s not biologically tied to them in any way I’m more than a little nervous about letting other people take care of the kids. I want to know that whoever it is will make them a priority and do everything possible to ensure that they don’t suffer so much as a hangnail. If there’s a situation of any kind involving bears, will they fight if necessary? These are the sorts of things I need to know before I’ll be entirely comfortable letting other people take care of those boys for even five minutes. From the years of friendship and watching their children I can imagine that their actual parents feel the same way, only more so. These people who didn’t know me at all five years ago have decided that, if it came to that, I would attack one or more bears to protect their children.
Point of clarification: given a choice, I prefer to be a bear-free guardian, or at least have a lot of time to prepare and fight dirty. Preferred courses of action involve steering clear of both Jellystone Park and the sets of Björk videos just to be safe.
It’s humbling to have someone bestow that level of trust. It’s not misplaced, and it’s not exactly a new thing because we’ve been a part of their lives for basically forever as far as the kids know, but in my head it still feels like a defining moment sort of thing to have it officially on paper and notarized.
The whole thing is little surreal when I think about it. If someone had told me four years ago that I would have these little buddies running around and terrorizing me on a regular basis I would never have believed it. If you’d told me two years ago that the oldest boy would ask me to come all of his baseball games to watch him win (he’s not in school yet, has never played, and I have no evidence that he fully understands the game) or that his brother would ask for a flat cap like the one I’ve been favoring lately and seek me out for cuddles and try to come to work with me, I’d’ve been equally incredulous.
I’m overwhelmed every day by how lucky I am to know these little guys and have them pester me for time and attention and call me papa and make me “be a horsie” until I want to collapse. I even think I’m lucky when they’re driving me absolutely crazy because I remember a time that I thought I’d never have children in my life at all. People keep saying that I’ll look back on even the most insane moments and miss them, so I want to be as present as possible in every second I can spend with them.
I guess what I’m saying is along the lines of: bring it on, bears. Mess with my boys, and I will take you down.