With Judge Owens: Musse, Brian, Tesfanesh, Jesmina, Keri and Solomon deGuzman.
As The Honorable Bernard C. Owens took the bench in his courtroom at Maricopa County Juvenile Court in Mesa, Brian and Keri deGuzman were trying to settle two energetic toddlers. Keri looked up at the judge uncertainly.
“Can he have a cracker?” she asked, referring to her son Solomon, who was squirming on her lap.
There was a brief moment of complete silence — enough for me to start wondering if maybe crackers aren’t allowed in court. Then the judge smiled. “Why not?” he said. “Anything that works.”
Crackers were offered all around and the squirming stopped.
“The universal silencer,” Judge Owens said. Then he got down to the business of the day.
A full eight months after they first held two small babies in their arms, the deGuzmans were in court Wednesday to finalize the adoptions of Tesfanesh and Mintesnot-Solomon Brian deGuzman. Because I had been with them on that very first day, in a foster home in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Keri invited me to join them for the court appearance. Brian’s parents, who live in Potomac, Md., also were there.
Owens is the same judge who granted adoption petitions for the deGuzmans’ older children, Jesmina (4) and Musse (2), who were also born in Ethiopia. Keri reminded him of that as the proceedings commenced, adding that “this is probably the last time we’ll be here to see you. But you never know!”
Deputy County Attorney Janina Walters posed a series of questions to verify the information that would go into the official records: the deGuzmans’ full names, the children’s full names, the correct spelling for each name and the dates of birth for both parents and children. The deGuzmans were asked to swear to the accuracy of the documentation in their petitions.
The judge then declared that it was “in the best interest of the children” to grant the petition. And just like that, it was done. The judge, the court clerk, the lawyer and all of the deGuzmans clapped their hands in celebration.
I pulled out my camera (allowed in the building only for adoption proceedings) and snapped pictures of the family, first with Judge Owens and then with Walters, who is expecting a baby this summer. She said that her next case, coincidentally, involved another adoption from Ethiopia.
As we exited the courtroom, we saw Steve Dershimer and Elizabeth Anthony of Ahwatukee and their adorable 17-month-old daughter. The two families greeted each other like old friends. I was momentarily confused. Did they already know each other? Or was this just the instantaneous bonding of people who have shared a similar journey to build a family?
It was, in fact, a little of both. I heard Steve tell Brian, “We feel like we already know you because we have read all about you in the [Raising Arizona Kids] magazine.”
The daughter he and his wife are raising is also named Tesfanesh. In Amharic, the name means “I am hope.”
Big sister Jesmina (4) holds Tesfanesh as they wait for the judge to enter the courtroom.
Three generations of deGuzmans.
Brian and Keri with Tesfanesh and Solomon.
With Deputy County Attorney Janina Walters.
The deGuzmans with Elizabeth Anthony, Steve Dershimer and their 17-month-old daughter Tesfanesh.