I took the stand and swore to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. My palms were sweating. I reminded myself to take deep breaths. And truth be told, I took in the layout of the room, hoping to burn it into my brain for future writing use. You can take my pen and paper, but it won’t stop me from thinking like a writer.
“Can you have the witness speak up or talk more into the microphone, please?”
Yikes. I've just pissed off an attorney by speaking in my normal tone of voice. Oops. My sisters and cousin were right when they told me as a child that I wasn't cut out to be a lawyer. My mighty voice often resembles more of a whisper.
I pulled the microphone closer. Were the words I was going to say really going to make much of a difference? Images of Perry Mason and the whites of his eyes flitted through my mind. Six years of my career had passed by without my ever having to do this. It was a record. All of my colleagues had been to court more than once.
“So you recommended family therapy?”
This guy was talking to me. Had I recommended family therapy? What is family therapy? Is there such a thing? And if there is, would it have been good for this person? I skimmed through the assessment I’d written and tried to make sense of something I’d written ages ago.
There it was. Family therapy. It is a real thing.
I had been taught to be clear and succinct with my answers. No long drawn out speeches from me. Engaging in such would more than likely get me tripped up over my own words.
“And who was invited to this family therapy?”
Duh. It seemed like a simple and straightforward answer.
“So, the parent? A grandparent? How do you define family?”
Memories raced to the surface of my mind. Most of them unpleasant. How do I define family? As a mother, adoptive mother, and stepmother, family is a complex concept.
“Yes they would have been invited.”
“All of them?”
“And what if they wanted their neighbor to come?”
This lawyer was snarky and sarcastic. In any other setting, we’d have gotten along just fine as I’m excellent with the snarky and sarcastic. But in this moment, he was playing with fire. As a mother, adoptive mother, and stepmother who’d grown up in a family with more than its share of dysfunction, I’m an expert on the definition of family.
“Then the neighbor would have been welcome with the appropriate release of information.”
“You would have allowed the neighbor to come?”
“So how do you define family?”
Did he really want me to go there? I glanced at the attorney in my corner. She was calm and collected.
“Family is whatever the consumer and/or guardian of the consumer defines family to be.”
Had the setting been less legal and intimidating, I’d have drug out my soapbox.
Family is what an individual claims it to be. I don’t believe the adage “blood is thicker than water” to be of any importance, unless of course, you’re a vampire. Family is your parent or grandparent or uncle or neighbor or teacher or pseudo-sibling or the family friend. Family is the person or people that know you like no other and still accept you for who you are. Family is defined as the people who advocate for you when you need it and give you what for when it’s necessary. Family is the stranger you met on your journey through life that became the one you connected with and who, in return, connected with you.
Titles mean nothing if the individual bearing it can’t live up to it. A father is not just a sperm donor. A mother isn't just the oven for a bun. A sister or brother or cousin may be people you grow up with but the title means nothing if the connection isn't strong and lasting and forever.
“So a kid can just decide who she wants to have in family therapy?”
“A guardian would need to sign a release allowing an individual identified by a kid to be part of family therapy.”
“And if the kid wants some family friend to be in family therapy and the parent signs off on it, that’s okay?”
“That’s what I said, yes.”
He was angry, frustrated. “Even if they aren't related to the consumer?”
“Even if they aren't related.”
The attorney took his case to the judge. It seemed I wasn't giving the answers he wanted to hear. He wanted to hear me say that I wouldn't allow individuals to come to family therapy; that I had thwarted the “family’s” ability to participate because he saw me as the enemy to his client.
I don’t remember what he said to the judge. It’s possible I wasn't listening because I was mentally cataloging the number of books on the lawyer’s tables in front of them for future writing use. Or perhaps I had gotten silently caught up in the meaning of family and I was reveling in the profoundness of what I’d said.
I remember the judge telling him I’d answered the questions he’d asked and was very clear in what I’d said. I remember him saying “No more questions, your honor” and feeling like I was on the set of Law & Order. I remember the attorney in my corner giving a small smile as she stood and said “nothing further.”
The judge asked about my credentialing and I managed to pull to the surface of my mind where and when I’d gone to school. Images of my Alma maters came to mind and I smiled a little. I’m a fan of education and am thankful every day that I was able to go to college.
“Thank you. You may step down.”
And I did. As I picked up my bag and walked out of the courtroom, I felt victorious. I don’t know what happened with that case, but I knew I’d won one for myself. Family is what you define family to be. It’s the combination of people you chose and maybe even the ones you didn't get to choose, but were thrown together with due to birth or marriage or adoption.
With my bag in one hand and my soapbox in the other, I walked out of that courthouse and went back to my family.
What does family mean to you? Have you found people in your journey through life that make the family cut even though you aren't related to them?