Saturday, March 31, 2012

Mommy! Mommy!

             Telephone calls like this are never easy.  "Hi," I said. "Mr. Clarke? Roger Clarke?"
"Yes," came a deep masculine voice.
"I'm Rebecca Kent." I leaned back in my car seat, cell phone at my ear. "So sorry to bother you," I said, trying to sound friendly but professional.
"I'm the court-appointed guardian for your daughter, Callie and—"
Before I could finish, the man said, "I've been expecting a call."
"I'd like to meet with you and Callie—I'm parked in front of your house.
But if this isn't a convenient time..."
"Come in," he said, no hint of alarm in his voice.
Roger Clarke and his wife had been separated for over a year. She had died four weeks ago, suddenly and tragically of a brain tumor. Eighteen-month-old Callie had lived with her dad during the separation, but now her wealthy maternal grandparents, who evidently had never cared for Roger, a high school science teacher, were requesting custody of the child. As a court-appointed representative for Callie, it was my job to evaluate the situation and make sure the little girl ended up with whoever could provide her with the best and most loving environment.
Stepping inside the doorway of Mr. Clarke's modest ranch-style home at four o'clock on a Sunday afternoon, I said, "Sorry," again. "But I like my visits to be somewhat of a surprise—catch people as they really are."
His cool blue eyes crisscrossed me, and I felt a bit of heat rising in my cheeks. Blond-haired and tall, square-jawed, Roger Clarke was amazingly handsome. Surprising me, my heart gave a little Thump! "I understand," he said. "Look around—do what you do. Callie's waking up from her nap."
"Daddy! Daddy!" Callie shrieked when we entered her bedroom. When Mr. Clarke hoisted the beautiful blond-haired toddler out of her bed, she flung her arms around his neck and hugged him. Then she honored me with a brilliant smile and said, "Mommy! Mommy!"
I blushed. Looking a bit embarrassed, Mr. Clarke said, "Sorry. Callie's mom hasn't lived with us for a while. Courtney...didn't enjoy motherhood, but Callie still misses her."
The baby cradled in his arms, Mr. Clark gave me a tour. The house looked comfortable and cozy and lived in—toys in the living room, shoes by the back door, a few dishes in the sink. Everything pleased me, especially the tender, affectionate bond between Mr. Clark and his daughter.
I spent nearly an hour with them. By the time I was ready to leave, we were on a first-name basis. Finally he asked, "Do I seem to be a responsible father? Or do you think Callie would be better off with her grandparents?" His blue eyes nearly took my breath away.
"I've talked to your in-laws," I said. "They fear strangers will be raising Callie—she's in daycare eight hours a day. She could be in their home and receive family love around the clock. They have plenty of money for the best of schools."
His chin lifted. "That doesn’t make me unfit."
"Of course not," I said. "The court hardly ever removes a child from parental custody when she's thriving."
"Truthfully, how do you think this will turn out?"
"I can't say. The final decision isn't mine. I'll be in touch."
I checked with the day care center and found that Callie arrived every morning smiling and well groomed, clothes clean. No sign of neglect. I checked with Roger's in-laws again. When they sensed things might not go their way, they asked that I make sure they had visiting rights. I said I didn't think that would be a problem.
I wrote my report. A week later on Sunday afternoon again, finished with the case, I made another unannounced visit to the Roger Clarke's household. Dad and daughter sat on the front porch on an old-fashioned glider, Callie clutching a red-haired doll.
"The report's been filed," I said. "My work is finished. You'll be getting a letter. But I thought I'd tell you myself: You have custody. Your in-laws will have visiting rights, the details to be arranged."
Wrapping his arms around his daughter, Roger kissed her on the forehead. "Thank you, thank you," he said to me, and smiled a warm, blue-eyed smile that melted my heart. Then he looked at me curiously and asked, "Would you like a cup of coffee?"
The directness of his gaze forced me to pause a moment.
"I'm sorry," he said, clearing his throat. "You probably have a boyfriend or husband and having coffee wouldn’t be appropriate."
"No husband, no boyfriend," I said. "And I'd love a cup of coffee."
Smiling once more, Roger stood up from the glider, Callie in his arms. "Great!" he said. "That's simply great."
Now it was my turn to smile.
Callie, also smiling, flapping her arms in the air, said, "Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!"
The End
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