Saturday, April 11, 2015


I've waited a couple of days to let the emotional dust settle before really writing about Thursday's hearing (best. hearing. EVAR!), but I'm finding it's still really hard to wrap my head around that day's events.

Everything is the same, and yet...everything is different.

We tried to take Thursday as easily as possible, but we still ended up rushing around right before we left. My husband was sure my parents weren't going to leave their house on time, and in an effort to assure me that they really were on their way and getting closer—while I was frantically trying to finish Small's special hairdo, still not dressed myself, with Hubby hollering about his missing white dress shirt, and holding a hot curling iron—Dad sent repeated texts with local landmarks they were passing.

JJ had been sending me hourly countdown texts all morning, which was great fun, but since I was holding a hot curling iron near a small-ish child, I couldn't just look at my phone, so I wasn't sure if it was her again (her last one said, "90 minutes! I think we can safely count by minutes now") or if it was Dad. When my phone bleated with what seemed like the twentieth text in as many seconds, I shouted, "Stop texting me!"

Had no idea who I was yelling at, really.

Turned out it was my dad. (He was amused when I told him.)

We were supposed to meet Ms. Sciuto on the second floor of the courthouse at 1:45. Dad and Hubby dropped off all of us outside the courthouse before parking the cars, in deference to my mother's tenuous and still-recovering health, my bad ankle, and my mother-in-law's fused ankle. We herded the kids inside the building and then tried to explain why they had to go through a metal detector. Ms. Sciuto had arrived ahead of us, and warned the deputies that we would be coming through with cameras, so we had no problems there once they went through the x-ray.

Dad and Hubby soon joined us on the second floor. The previous hearing in Courtroom 4 had concluded, and so we were able to get in and show the Fries what the courtroom looked like. Ms. Sciuto indicated the judge's bench and the witness stand and got enough chairs for all five of us to sit by her. Proud grandparents along with Jester and Mitzy got relegated to the gallery.

The bailiff announced the judge's entrance, and we all stood. Before she sat, she chose to administer the oath for those of us giving testimony, and asked us to raise our right hands. Hubby and I both knew we would be testifying, and that the judge might ask the kids some questions, but it was comical when all three of them raised their hands, too. (Large got it right, but the twins mirrored the judge's stance, and so we had to get them to raise the correct hands.) We all said, "I do," when prompted by the judge after she finished the oath to tell the truth.

Ms. Sciuto called me to the stand first, since Hubby had had such trouble with dates in our hearing last year. I was asked first to provide my name, address, age, and date of birth, then my husband's name, date of birth, and the date of our marriage. He's usually the one who has issues remembering dates, especially our wedding, but I blanked for about ten seconds on our anniversary. There was a chuckle as it was obvious that I'd had a momentary brain-blank...but, let me tell you, that showed the tone of the whole proceeding.

Ms. Sciuto walked me through her questions. I described our home and our neighborhood. Yes, the statements and facts in the petition were true and correct, to the best of my knowledge. Yes, I did file three petitions to adopt the three children present. Yes, I felt I had developed a parent/child bond with Large. And Medium. And Small. (I managed to hold it together through that without losing it. Barely.) Yes, I understood that the granting of the adoption petition would make these children as though they were my natural children, that they were entitled to inherit as any natural child, that I would be responsible for them in all ways (physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, financially) until at least the age of 18 or possibly beyond. Yes, the disclosure of fees was correct (OUCH, but correct). Yes, these are the decrees, the correct current names, and the correct (and correctly spelled) proposed new names. Yes, we did discuss these with the children. Then Ms. Sciuto announced that she had no more questions.

Judge K turned to me. "How did you come up with these names? I am just really curious."

Yeah, wasn't quite expecting that one.

"Small and I share the same first name, and as Hubby and I were discussing the new names, we realized that having two of us in the same house with essentially the same name, the only difference being the middle name, was going to be a bad idea. We'd seen records get confused before, both with my late father-in-law and my husband's brother, and with other friends. We didn't want that," I said. "So we opted to make Small's first name her middle name, so that she could still be called that, but change her first name. The one we chose was in honor of my dad, since it's the feminine form of his name."

Watching and waiting while I testify.
I smiled at Small and then went on. "Small loved the new name, and so we then asked Medium what she would like, what changes she might want to have. She said she wanted more letters." At this, Medium vehemently shook her head, and chuckles came from the court gallery and the bench. "Yes, you did. I remember that discussion at bedtime." Medium continued shake her head. "We gave her the additional letters she wanted, keeping the same phonetics but changing the spelling.

"Large was a different story. At first, we were just going to drop the hyphenated part of her middle name. Then Hubby wanted to change her middle name to the feminine form of his dad's name, to honor him, which we liked, and so did Large...for a couple of months. Then she came to us and proposed a different name, because she said her friends didn't like the new one we had talked about. We thought it would be a passing phase, but she continued to talk about it. For a year. We discussed it several times, and the last time, she was able to tell us that she wanted a name that held good memories for her." It was hard to explain how we'd extrapolated from Large's explanation—that she associated her birth first name with "houses" and it gave her bad memories, and the new first name she wanted was associated with "good houses" and people she loved—that she was clearly trying to separate herself from the name given to her by the parents who had walked away from her, and take a name that was hers, one tied to the people she loves. And with all of the Fries there in court, I certainly didn't want to say that out loud. Judge K is a smart lady, and with the way I spoke, I was sure she could put two and two together.

"So, after that conversation, we agreed to the change that Large wanted," I finished.

Hubby's turn.
Judge K then dismissed me from the stand. "Thank you. That was the only question I really had."

Ms. Sciuto called Hubby to the stand. He went through the same litany of questions that I did, although Ms. Sciuto skipped the descriptive questions I had and simply asked if he substantially agreed to my testimony. When asked if he understood that he would be responsible for raising and disciplining and loving these children, Hubby smiled. "Yep, just keep doing what we're doing." More chuckles from the gallery (peanut and otherwise).

Ms. Sciuto addressed Judge K, and introduced all three girls. Judge K noted which girl was wearing what color, complimenting each of the girls' dresses as she did so. Then Ms. Sciuto said, "Your Honor, the girls have all said they would like to try sitting in the witness box."

Judge K nodded, and Ms. Sciuto called Large Fry up. "Who are these two people next to me?"

Large talks with Judge K.
"My mom and dad," Large Fry said quietly.

"Do you know why we're here today?"

"Yes, 'cause it's adoption day."

"Is this what you want, for them to be your real mom and dad?"


Ms. Sciuto smiled encouragingly, and said she had no more questions.

Judge K scooted her chair down closer to the witness stand so she could more easily talk to Large. I wasn't sure what kinds of questions she would ask, but Judge K didn't disappoint. Her questions were very well oriented to the age of her young witnesses.

"Do you know what 'adoption' means?" Judge K asked first.

Large shook her head, and the court reporter turned so she could see and read body language and lips to get answers.

Judge K took some time to explain what adoption meant, avoiding the legalese and saying it meant that our family was going to be official now. Then she asked what grade Large was in, and what her favorite subject was.

And what kind of rules we have.

Large was intimidated enough by the events that she couldn't think of any, but nodded when the judge offered suggestions like keeping her room clean and doing her homework. Oh, I thought, I hope she doesn't ask Small Fry that, because Small has had one of those weeks where she's been on the wrong end of the rules quite a bit.

Judge K then asked if Large wanted us to be her real mom and dad. There was no hesitation. "Yes!"

Medium in the box.
Then it was Medium's turn. Ms. Sciuto asked the same general questions of her that she'd asked of Large, and turned it over to the judge.

"What's your favorite thing to do with your mom?"

"I just like to be with her."

"What's your favorite thing to do with your dad?"

"I like to be next to him. And another word for it is snuggle."

That brought grins and chuckles from more than a few of us, because, well, Hubby and I knew that's the word she'd use, and it was so quintessentially Medium that we couldn't help but laugh.

"And do you want them to be your real, official mom and dad?"

"Oh, yes!"

Small climbed up into the witness box next, and the bailiff helped her get close and adjusted the microphone, just as he had for her sisters. Ms. Sciuto repeated the same questions again for Small before nodding to the judge.

Judge K's questions for Small followed in the same vein as those she'd asked Large and Medium, ending with, "Do you want them to be your real mom and dad?"

Small's grin lit up her face as she nodded, and then said, "Yes!"

Small skipped back to her seat as the judge moved her chair back to the center of the bench.

Judge K shuffled papers across the desk, sorting out the ones she needed. "I have absolutely no doubt," she said, looking directly at Hubby and me, "that you will continue to care for these children and provide for all of their needs, emotionally, physically, and—" here her voice caught—"spiritually. This has been a long road for all of you, and now the end is in sight. I have no worries about the future of these children; they are in excellent hands. I have been through this journey with you, and I am convinced that these girls could not be loved more than they already are. Therefore, it is my great pleasure to sign these decrees and make you an official family, confirming what you've been for so long already." She looked over at the kids and smiled. "Judges don't often get to do fun things. Judges have to do sad things and hard things and scary things a lot of the time. This is the best sort of thing that I get to do." Judge K looked over at Ms. Sciuto. "So, I will sign these, just as you've prepared them, Ms. Sciuto."

Making it official.
She picked up her pen and began to sign her name. She addressed Large by name and said, "I've signed this decree, and it says your name will now be Oldest."

She slid that sheet over, and picked up Medium's. "Oh, Ms. Sciuto. There's an error on here. Um, see me afterward and we'll get this sorted out." She signed the decree anyway, and spoke to Medium. "I've signed this decree, and it says your name will now be Middle. And no one will ever say your middle name the wrong way again."

Then she took Small's decree and signed it before turning to Small. "I've signed this decree, and your name will now be Youngest."
Judge K, Middle, and Flat Stanley

Judge K's smile beamed through the room. "It gives me such delight to declare you an official family. Happy Adoption Day!"

There was lots of blinking back tears.

Judge K, Youngest, and Flat Stanley
Ms. Sciuto stood. "Your Honor, they would like to get some pictures with you, if that's okay. Especially the two youngest girls—they have Flat Stanleys."

Judge K laughed. "Flat Stanley has been all over Courtroom 1."

The judge was kind enough to pose for a whole mess of pictures, although she confessed to getting flustered over where to look. She posed with each twin and their respective Flat Stanleys, then with all three girls, and then with all five of us.

Officially official!
As Hubby and the girls drifted away and my mom came forward to show the judge the scrapbook she'd made to tell our adoption story, the judge's eyes met mine. Hers shimmered with happy tears. "I am so happy for you all," she told me. "I am so glad that you were finally able to do this. I really have no doubt that they're in great hands."
Judge K loved Mom's book.

We moved out of the courtroom amid hugs from everyone, including Jester and Mitzy. "You held it together so well up there!" Mitzy exclaimed.

Jester concurred. "I wasn't sure you were going to make it," he teased.

"Yeah, well, I wasn't sure I was going to make it, either."

We got some pictures with Ms. Sciuto, and then decided that, since the majority of us adults had skipped lunch (I don't know that you could count my Little Debbie Nutty Bars as lunch), we would go out for an early celebratory dinner. Since this hearing qualified as a religious experience, really, we decided that TGI Friday's was the best choice.
Jester, Mitzy, & girls.

"Besides, I have to get my keys back from the guards downstairs," Dad said.

"What?" I asked.

"They wouldn't let me take my keys up because of the pocketknife on my keychain."

I chuckled. "Those things are lethal, you know."

However, when we got to Friday's and I couldn't get the cross-hatches on Oldest's slushie lid to open up for her straw, Dad volunteered the services of his knife.

"See?" he said. "I told you it could come in handy."

Then he showed me this picture he'd taken on the way into the restaurant.

"Forever Family. It's everywhere!"


  1. I am so happy for you that I cried. I am also amazed by how much your daughters have GROWN. It was an incredibly journey and will continue to be one, but one shared in an even deeper way.

    1. Thanks! It still feels so surreal. Everything is the same...and yet, everything is so different.

  2. I'm very happy for you. May the love you share be multiplied a thousand fold.

  3. That is awesome! I'm so happy for you guys!


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