Sunday, March 07, 1999

C'mon, judge, Justin is with parents




BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        He has red hair, hazel eyes and a high-pitched voice that sometimes has “twouble” making its way around new words. A sweet baby smile. Dimpled hands. You know, the usual heartbreaking equipment.

        And, again as usual, there is a disparity of money and class and stability between the two couples who want him. The birth parents are unmarried and poor. The adoptive parents are college-educated, married and prosperous in a middle-class way.

Legal hurdles
        There's a reason for this. The law is picky about who gets a chance to adopt children. They have to jump financial and social hurdles to qualify. Biological parents just have to have the DNA. That's the easy part.

        The hard part is getting up in the middle of the night when they're sick or have seen a monster under the bed. The real parent stuff is the science projects, the new shoes, the vitamins. It's reading Good Night, Moon a million times.

        That's what separates the parents from the sperm and egg donors.

        Rich and Cheryl Asente live in a house in northeastern Ohio, where Mr. Asente manages a Staples store. Justin's brother, Joey, 3, went to live with the Asentes when he was 11 days old. A little over a year ago, Regina Moore called them asking if they'd like to have his brother as well.

        Ms. Moore, who also has a 6-year-old daughter who does not live with her, gave birth to Joey in December of 1995 and Justin in February 1997. She lives in Covington with a man named Jerry Dorning, who is married to another woman. Ms. Moore and Mr. Dorning both signed the consent-to-adopt forms.

        “I made a big lapse in judgment,” she told The Cincinnati Enquirer's Susan Vela.

        That's what she thinks today. Perhaps she will change her mind again, but the courts have the opportunity to honor the moment of clarity when Regina Moore knew she could not give this little boy the life he deserves.

        It is not about class. It is not about money. It is not about some arcane legal maneuver. It is about one little boy and our best guess about what the future would hold for him. The courts have a chance to do this because Ms. Moore and Mr. Dorning signed away their rights. Voluntarily.

No flip-flops allowed
        It was not our idea that they are unfit parents. It was theirs. Nobody swooped into their house and plucked their child away because they don't have money.

        In February, Kenton County Circuit Judge Patricia Summe ruled that Ms. Moore and Mr. Dorning did not make an informed decision when they let Justin go live with the Asentes. The judge said the couple believed incorrectly that they had more time to make their final decision.

        An informed decision? These people should qualify as experts. Between them, they have brought six children into the world — none of whom lives with them. So, when Judge Summe takes another look at this case on March 16, I hope she makes them keep their word.

        Rich and Cheryl Asente were offered the chance to be a family. And they took it. Two little boys under the age of 3 are not so easy some days, I'm guessing. But Mr. and Mrs. Asente didn't ship them back to Covington when the boys were teething. Or when they acted like stinkers. These are sacred bonds. Not biology.

        “When is it not in (a child's) best interests to be with parents who want to be with him?” Ms. Moore says.

        Well put.

        Now the court simply has to acknowledge what Justin already knows. Rich and Cheryl Asente are his mother and father.

        E-mail Laura Pulfer at lpulfer@enquirer.com or call 768-8393.

        Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. E-mail her at laurapulfer@enquirer.com

PULFER ARCHIVE