Creating guardianship when childhood protections end for daughter

It was about as subtle as the first clap of thunder in a Texas storm.

I had taken Meredith to get some routine ultrasounds, and I had explained that it would not hurt and that she might see some funny pictures on a monitor. She understood, though — she was still asking questions in the waiting room.

Once we were called back, I picked up Meredith’s backpack and put my arm around her and we followed the assistant, who turned around when we got to the door and delivered this jolt.

“You can’t go in with her,” the technician told me.

“What? Why on earth not?”

“She’s over 18. She’s an adult.”

“But she won’t go in there without me,” I pleaded. Meredith has intellectual disabilities because of a rare congenital brain difference called partial agenesis of the corpus callosum. This means the bridge between the two hemispheres did not fully form and, as a result, Meredith has no way to get information from one hemisphere to the other, which is crucial for social, behavioral and cognitive processing.

“If she says it is OK, you can go with her.”

“Meredith,” I said in a voice filled with unhelpful desperation. “Can Mom go in with you?”

I waited for an answer. Everyone waited. After a full minute and some more mother explanation, she said yes in her tiny, worried voice.

It was not a great start to this appointment. Then, a few weeks later, Meredith needed to get a shot. She refused, naturally, and I was not qualified to challenge her decision. She finally relented when I told her she might get sick without it.

I knew Meredith was an adult, but I came away from the two experiences quite bruised. How was it possible I had been to hundreds of doctors appointments and therapy appointments with Meredith, and now, after a lousy piece of birthday cake, I was told to stand on the sidelines? I can tell a doctor the quirks of my daughter’s every muscle, whether an experience is likely to be remembered or forgotten in 10 minutes by Meredith and how many years it took to learn to buckle her seat belt. But I cannot hold her hand during an ultrasound unless she says it is OK.

Meredith is moving into her own, as we like to say. She can order at restaurants sometimes and decide on outfits to wear — an unapologetic nod to her free expression. She really doesn’t understand money, but a job sounds interesting to her. Medical decisions, obviously, hold more gravitas, and her inability to make decisions could get all of us in a lot of trouble.

All this made it clear that my husband, Jim, and I would need to consider guardianship.

Guardianship. It brought up images of a courtroom and an unwilling “ward” and all those things you hear about but really don’t know about. There were many different ways to help Meredith, including giving Jim and me “power of attorney” and other less restrictive legal control. But none of those options really gave us full authority in a variety of situations where Meredith would show poor or no judgment on how to proceed.

We decided after talking about it with family and our attorney Pamela Parker that we would file for full guardianship. Meredith would lose many rights, including the right to vote, manage her money, drive a car and take marital vows. It doesn’t say she can’t fall in love or learn how much money is adequate for lunch. It doesn’t say she can’t have a job or can never leave our side. She doesn’t have to live with us. And frankly, my little Cleopatra has never seen the need for driving.

The first step was to file, and then the court assigned us an ad litem, a legal name for an attorney who represents Meredith’s best interest. Part of his duty in representing Meredith was to visit our home. As he sat on our couch facing us, he asked Meredith who she wanted to take care of her, and she pointed to me.

The meeting was mercifully short and did not include a tour of our home or the need to check and see if we had proper fire extinguishers on both floors. Huh? No, seriously, a friend told us we might be asked about the extinguishers. I vacuumed, too. There is nothing more bizarre than to be put in the position of proving you — the parents — are the most qualified for the job.

Apparently we passed muster, because a hearing date was scheduled.

The court date came, and Jim and I both dressed up to show proper respect for Judge Guy Herman’s courtroom. We stood nervously outside his courtroom with Meredith, and we were both grateful when the judge stopped by to meet Meredith and explain that Associate Judge Dan Prashner would be handling that day’s proceedings.

Once we were called into the courtroom, Meredith was openly referred to as a “ward.” She and her attorney were separated from us by a tiny gap between two desks, one where she sat with her ad litem and the other where Jim and I sat with our attorney.

The room felt very official, and the voices seemed to reverberate as each attorney made a case for guardianship or whether guardianship was in the best interest of Meredith. The word “incapacitated” was used to describe my daughter more than twice, but I knew it was just a legal term. I was surprised at how much it bothered me, though.

Early in the proceedings, which took less than 10 minutes, Jim and I were individually asked the same three questions.

“Do you owe Meredith any money?”

“Are you involved in any litigation with Meredith?”

“Are you qualified and not disqualified from being appointed guardian?”

The answers — if you want to turn to the back of the book — are no, no and yes.

I was really hoping Meredith would not interrupt and insist we did owe her money because sometimes in a moment of memory shuffling, Meredith’s finds the need to ask right now. She remained quiet.

After we were all done, we thanked the judge, and I gave Meredith a hug and said, “Good job.”

The judge stood up and, as if on cue, Meredith said loudly while looking at her dad, “CAN I ASK SOME QUESTIONS, JIM?” Everyone laughed.

And so the first big legal decision was not a battle at all, but rather a testament to two parents who will have a little girl forever. All we can do is love Meredith as we always have, knowing we have a little more authority on paper if she needs it. Meredith gains more independence every day, and it will be our privilege to watch her share it with us.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Lifestyle

Kids who lose a father to death, divorce, jail feel it in their DNA, new study finds
Kids who lose a father to death, divorce, jail feel it in their DNA, new study finds

A new study looked at the saliva of 2,420 children enrolled in the federally funded Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study. Researchers wondered: Would it matter if children did not have a father actively involved in their lives because of death, prison or divorce? Father’s matter, as new study points out. The...
Summer’s last splash: Wash away the dog days at these area water parks
Summer’s last splash: Wash away the dog days at these area water parks

It’s hot. Triple-digit hot. Burn your bare feet on the sidewalk hot. And it’s starting to feel like it may never end. Whether this is your first Central Texas summer or your 40th, there’s no denying that finding new ways to beat the heat by the time late July and August roll around can be a challenge. Here’s the good news: The...
Raising quintuplets? What another Austin-area mom can tell the Hodges family
Raising quintuplets? What another Austin-area mom can tell the Hodges family

Sunday, we wrote about the last Hodges quintuplet leaving Seton Medical Center after being born on March 24.  Liz and Daniel Hodges headed home with daughter Teagan and sons Connell, Liam, Nolan and Dillon. The quintuplets join 2-year-old big brother Rowan at home. Daniel and Liz Hodges, of Temple, along with their 2-year-old...
A dip in a secluded Hill Country swimming hole makes everything right
A dip in a secluded Hill Country swimming hole makes everything right

I’ve been spending every spare hour lately writing. When I’m not working here at the Austin American-Statesman, I’m chipping away at a book I’m writing about the conservationist J. David Bamberger. A few weeks ago, I took a week off from the Statesman and put myself in (almost) solitary confinement out at Bamberger&rsquo...
See what these preschoolers look like 70 years later
See what these preschoolers look like 70 years later

The tiny tots peer tentatively over a stairway railing. Some appear bewildered. Others look distracted or fascinated or bored. Their teacher, blinking behind studious eyeglasses, stands behind them. She smiles. Perhaps she is proud of her brood at the experimental University Nursery School. Maybe she will just be glad when this Christmas 1948 photo...
More Stories