Back in May 2012 I began the process to obtain custody of my niece Ariana who was placed in my care by the Department of Children and Families, FL because of the child neglect she was suffering at the hands of my youngest sister. It has been a rough few months of adjusting, she has a lot of emotional trauma and aggression that will take time to heal. In the first few weeks I allowed my sister to come by and visit with the hopes that she would realize that she could potentially lose her child and I really thought she was going to change. I then realized she would only come over to eat and watch TV or play with the kids electronic’s. The days passed then a week then two weeks with no visitation or phone calls and I realized the drugs had won. Then, we moved from Florida. The phone calls began and she claimed that she had a job and was going to change so I allowed her to speak to her daughter.
Just before I left Florida I petitioned the court to allow me to attend the custody hearing via conference call because I had seven children in my care and explained how complicating it would be for me to attend but they refused. Just a few short weeks of moving I got a summons to appear for the final hearing or the case would be dismissed. We had been trying to figure out how we would get my husbands SUV to North Carolina since we had left it behind in the initial move so this was the perfect opportunity to bring the car back.
I had no choice but to leave my teens caring for the little ones because my husband works all day. I flew up the day before my hearing. My brother picked me up at the airport then took me to get my husbands SUV at the hubbys grandparents house. I visited for a while, they did not want me to leave. My mother in law (she lives there) made me feel like I was in “The Twilight Zone”, she hugged me when I arrived and was trying to feed me and very attentive and after an hour when I told them I really had to go she hugged me so hard I could hardly breathe. This is the woman who hates me and treats my kids like they don’t exist and would love nothing more than to see my husband a single man. I don’t know what changed but she actually seemed to care, I’m still in shock!
I then headed straight to my mother’s house where my sister lives to pick up a birthday gift she had promised Ariana. When I arrived she was not there and my mother was on the defensive because I demanded to know where she was and there was no gift either. She knew I was flying in for the hearing and she promised me she would make it to court. While I was there trying to get a straight answer out of my mother my sister called on the phone and when I spoke with her she was high. I told her I’m here for Ariana’s gift and she said yeah I’ll have it for when you come to FL. When I told her I am in FL and court is tomorrow and she yelled and said “What! I gotta call some people” and hung up the call on me. I was furious and left immediately. I then made a visit to my old home to pick up some items left behind, I visited some friends and family because I could not leave and not spend a little time with my grandmother and made a few stops including hitting up the old pharmacy for refills and before I knew it I was meeting my BFF Glenna for dinner. She took me to the Cheesecake Factory, it was my first time there and a celebration of our birthdays since we were not able to go to lunch together as we always had in the past. I loved it and the best of all was the quality time I spent with my friend who is more like my sister. I really miss her!
I then headed over to my other BFF Jacqui’s house where I would spend the night because she is always so graciously lending her hand to help me. We had coffee, it was great because I really miss our coffee dates and talked for several hours before the exhaustion got the better of me and I had to go to sleep. The following morning she accompanied me to court as the witness the summons said I needed to have but when we arrived they said I did not need one. I told her she could leave because she was already missing a few hours of work for me but she said that she was there for support. As we waited I became so nervous and I anxiously awaited my sister’s arrival. But the time came and I was called into a courtroom with about another twenty cases, I was nervous and feeling very light-headed. I was called second to last and the judge proceeded to ask me my name and what had been the circumstances leading up to my petition for custody. He then asked me where my sister was and I said I don’t know, I told her she had to be here. He shook his head in disappointment, asked me about the father and if I understood that if granted the petition she would in all senses be my child. That any and all responsibility, financially and for her safety and well-being were up to me. He then asked me again if I understood this and if I wanted the courts to grant me custody of my niece. I told him yes and he said I grant you the petition for temporary custody, he told me it was my decision to allow visitation to the parents but I was in no way obligated. He then paused, lifted his head and thanked me for doing what I am doing for Ariana. He brought me to tears and when the bailiff handed me the papers I started crying even more. I thanked the judge and walked out where Jacqui was waiting for me with open arms. Thank goodness she was there I really needed her hugs.
We walked to our vehicles and said our goodbye’s, it was not easy but I needed to get on the road for my 10-12 hour drive home, alone. As I left the court I get a text from my sister saying that she could not get a ride but she was going to get the bus. I responded telling her not to bother that the judge had granted me custody and I have all say over Ariana’s life. She started sending me a ton of crazy text messages then started calling me. I pulled over and took a call and she accused me of stealing her daughter. I told her I had given her every opportunity to be there for Ariana but she ultimately cares about herself first and foremost. She then said “if” I change you won’t let me have her back. I gave no explanation but I told her if you want to see your daughter “clean yourself up” and hung up. She would not stop calling or texting so I had to turn my phone off. She said “if” she changes not “when” she changes, this was the moment I realized I would have to make the tough decisions for Ariana’s well-being and right now it’s healthier for her not to be exposed to her mother. That was twelve days ago, we have not heard from her since.
I had a crazy drive home. After driving for over two hours I realized the car was heating up but every time I reduced my speed to 65mph it would cool back down. I ended up making several stops for ice and gasoline because I had no air and I felt like I was dying so I ate ice almost the entire ride. That car is a gas guzzler too, my goodness! And I would have to slow down just before the car over heated. It was the toughest, weirdest eleven hour drive. In the end I got home safe. Sticky and horribly exhausted not to mention starving but I got home to my family, safe. I told my husband I would never ever volunteer to a long drive like that alone, ever, again!
But it’s done. I did it, I can’t belive it did it all but I did. I have temporary custody of my niece with no date limit as my sister had initially only wanted me to have Ariana for two years but the judge did not see that to be fit. She is now part of my family and although we have a very long road ahead of us we will get through it and the therapy will be a big part of helping her overcome her past and adjust to her new life. She will now have the opportunity to heal and I am very happy for that. As for my sister, she is her mother’s daughter is all I can say. I am grateful everyday my grandmother raised me.