Last week at back to school night, one of Sebastian’s teachers said, “He’s a compliant student.” I laughed because in this respect he most definitely takes after me.
I’m the one on a deserted road at midnight who comes to a complete stop at the stop sign and who feels guilty if I cross the street against the light. I like blaming my Catholic school upbringing for the need to be hyper-compliant, but the truth is I have been a perfectionist for as long as I can remember. My earliest memories of kindergarten include a pretend wooden fruit stand and a coloring assignment. After completing the homework sheet, I realized I had done it all wrong. After some amount of hysterics, my mother used a butter knife to scrap off the crayon so I could fix it.
It took years to calm my perfectionist ways. I will say the compliance trait does come in very handy in my special needs parenting life, especially when it comes to Benjamin’s medical needs and anything related to his government benefits. But sometimes being compliant in an imperfect world is frustrating.
Last week, John and I each received a letter from the County Surrogate’s office regarding a guardianship form we were required to file within 90 days of our hearing last May. I mailed out the form certified mail in July and USPS tracking told me it had been received. According to the letters however, the form had not reached the Surrogate’s office and “Failure to file court-ordered reports may require further review or action by a Superior Court judge.“
At our hearing in May the judge told us, YOU MUST COMPLY WITH ANNUAL REPORTING AND AGREE TO GUARDIANSHIP MONITORING.
The NJ Courts website explains the Guardianship Monitor program as made up of trained volunteers who help the courts review documents and update records. However, during our hearing, the judge made it sound like monitoring could include phone calls or in-person visits.
I try to view things in an optimistic light, until I have good reason not to. Then I go straight to worst case scenario mode. For that I absolutely blame Catholic school. So when the judge said we would be monitored, I envisioned Big Brother.
The thing is our case was simple, uncontested. In his report, Benjamin’s court appointed lawyer said,”It is readily apparent that, as his parents, the Plaintiffs, are really just applying to do what they are already doing: managing all of their son’s affairs and advocating on his behalf to ensure that he reaches his potential – while at the same time ensuring that he is healthy, safe and secure and that he is not subject to potential abuse.”
I think for the past 18 plus years John and I have done a good job of caring for and protecting Benjamin. I’m grateful his lawyer took notice. I understand that the guardianship system was put into place because there were miserable human beings who took advantage of their sick, elderly, and affluent relatives, but I don’t like that parents such as me and John are, as one lawyer put it, “shoehorned” into the same system.
In my essay, “Bury My Son Before I Die,” I said, “We knew we would always be judged.” So many people have asked me, “Who are you afraid will judge you?”
I expect other parents and strangers to judge us, but I can live with that. I can live with the court’s requirements even though I don’t like them. But I’m having a hard time being judged by a system so flawed that it spits out threatening letters to parents who already did what was asked, especially when the human beings in charge of that system have the power to strip us of the legal right to care for our son.
If you think the courts would never deny a family the right to guardianship, read this recently published piece by The New Yorker: “How the Elderly Lose Their Rights” and soak in the fact that courts can appoint strangers who have made guardianship a profitable business.
By the way, after several phone call attempts, I went to the County Surrogates office to hand deliver a copy of the form I mailed in July. Turns out they did have our form and sent those intimidating letters to us by mistake.