‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’
by Kate Axelrod
It was a scorching summer day. My husband and I agonizingly plodded along the 405 at rush hour against an invisible clock. Our Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) social worker had called us to say there was a baby boy available and we were next on the equally invisible list. And we had five minutes to decide.
The baby boy we requested turned out to actually be… a girl. And when they realized, prior to our arrival at the DCFS office, that they had made a mistake, they called us on the freeway to ask if we still wanted her.
And thus began our too long relationship with the glorious DCFS. Where the caseloads move at the pace of the 405 at rush hour. And logic and sanity don’t apply. But, as a former line producer now television writer, my entire life was built upon making order of chaos.
Like producing a mammoth music video and taking a crew to a remote Caribbean island only to have the lead singer blow off his epic swimming with dolphins scene and jet. I had to scramble all night and fly in a submersible photo double. He ended up looking better than the front man.
Or producing a film for a billionairess who dined exclusively with sterling silver chopsticks and was blowing the husband’s wad on her Hollywood fantasy. I tried to do things smart but she created insanity with firings, recastings and having a bagman make an affair disappear. She eventually fired me. But, not before she bought me a puppy. A spry and trusty pal I have to this day.
And writing on staff of a series for a creator who became completely blocked. Instead of getting into a creative flow, we managed his parking lot weed escapades and fondness for dirty internet while trapped in the writers’ room pitching random ideas to fabricate into episodes. I buckled down and wrote a lot of good scripts. Just not for that show.
But could I handle this?
In public adoption, there’s the state’s mandate: a shot at reunification for all. And one thousand chances to try. No matter the birth parent’s (or my word, the Bio) level of criminality, vagrancy or lack of interest in parenting, blood trumps everything. So, there’s anger management, parenting classes, rehab, counseling and visits with their offspring.
This serves to perpetuate the myth that it’s best to return the kid to a black hole, than throw away the key to a bedroom filled with Rainbow Looms and footballs and Floam.
On that fateful afternoon, we used our generous five-minute window to make sure our genetic son was taken care of, strapped an infant seat in the car and entered no man’s land. When they called to tell us it was a girl, not a boy, we were crawling by the Mulholland Drive exit. There, we took thirty seconds to wrap our heads around the new gender before confirming that yes, this isn’t China, so we still wanted her, and we were definitely on our way!
We arrived to find a seven-week-old with dark saucer eyes wrapped in a dirty blanket and weighing the same as a newborn. Her hair gelled into a Mohawk, a bacterial infection foamed white in her mouth. We loved her instantly.
Over the next two and a half years… yes, that long, we gave that girlie everything she needed to be re-wired. And we showed up at every hearing and wrote letters and sent photos to the court so we were real to them.
The Bio (nineteen, unmarried, unemployed; a gang banger with no permanent address nor family) floated in and out of communication with DCFS. She showed up to three or four visits out of dozens scheduled. She started and stopped a number of parenting classes and rehab programs and finally, nine months in and, unbelievably, pregnant again, went to state prison on felony meth charges.
And then… my husband, God bless him, took the now toddler, our daughter, to state prison for visits on three occasions. Because the law requires it until parental rights are terminated. Which finally happened. It was our water on the wicked witch moment.
Today, my four-year-old sings The Shema at the top of her lungs in the grocery store and hula hoops like a Don Ho back up dancer. She has shown me the power of will. Hers, to suffer in utero drug exposure, early neglect and developmental delays, and thrive. And mine, to endure, be relentless and manifest the certain outcome.
And that is how you handle things you can’t control. In the business and in life. A few months ago I was driving my daughter to school, and from the back seat of the car comes:
“Adopted means when you don’t have a mommy and daddy and some people come and save you. And then you watch a movie.”
For sure.Tags: Adoption, Entertainment industry, Hollywood, Kate Axelrod, Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, Modern Family, Producer, Raising a child, Work-life balance, Writer