Life’s Trajectory & Letting Go

 

For the first thirty years of my life I followed a specific trajectory. My life was a linear graph. One could merely plug in the vertical and horizontal measurements into the linear equation to determine the slope of my life and project where I would be in two, five, and ten years. My trajectory was neat, orderly, and systematic. There were points marked on the graph for high school, college, work, law school, bar exam and then work again. In this world, hard work led to academic and professional success. As far as I knew, thought, believed, I would continue on this path forever. I envisioned myself rising to the top of my legal career, establishing a solid reputation, and receiving awards. In my mind, I would be a legal superstar.

But then, I got pregnant. People never admit this, but I was slightly ambivalent about my pregnancy. I was the first in my group of friends to become pregnant. I was entrenched in my career. My social life entailed happy hours with beloved co-workers after endless hours at work. Weekends were spent sleeping in, lounging with my husband, prepping trials, and visiting clients in jail. The pregnancy triggered something inside me. I started doubting whether I could do my job and be a mom. On some level I knew that I would have to give something up. I loved my life, my trajectory, my diagonal line aiming high into the sky, but I anticipated change.

Well into my second trimester my body indicated that my new baby and I could not survive my career path. I sat across from my boss, tears streaming down my face and I quit. I intended to return. A year maternity leave maximum, I thought as I left the only adult life I’d ever known, my office, my friends, and my co-workers. I’d be back. I loved this place.

My pregnancy was a beautiful ticking time bomb. Her birth tore me apart and ripped me from my orderly world. She blasted me off my trajectory. I was catapulted off the linear graph I’d been climbing and thrown into outer space. A world no one can imagine or be prepared for until their own baby is placed in their arms. In this world there was no line to measure my progress. No linear equation to determine my success. Analytically my choices did not make sense. Hard work would never equate to a plaque or an award.

I looked at my baby girl and knew returning to work would not be so simple. She jolted me out of my life. I threw myself into parenting and loving this little person. I missed my old world – my friends, trials, professional respect, and the fight for social justice. I missed it, but I couldn’t go back. In some sense I didn’t feel brave enough to return. Financially, I didn’t have to, so I stayed home, but I was conflicted. As years passed I thought maybe I’ll go back when my baby attends school all day.

*****

A stay-at-home mother with young kids, our house is a chrysalis, a hard shell protecting our growing family. My three children cozily wrapped together in the silk sinews we created. The walls are thick and tight. We are pressed so closely together it is sometimes hard to tell where one of us ends and the other one starts. We feed off of each other. My children’s bodies melding to the shape of their parents and siblings pressed against them. So malleable, the children grow, bending around one another, expanding any way they can until they emerge into the outside world.  

The moment the butterfly emerges from the chrysalis. It sounds romantic, but in reality, it’s slightly gruesome. The butterfly is torn from the chrysalis. It pulls, tears, and rips itself from its protective shell. There is blood. Pain. In the end, the butterfly is beautiful and free.

*****

I remember walking my daughter to the park, pushing her stroller. She ate snacks off of her tray, happily sipping from her straw cup, pointing at dogs and bikes. It was sunny. I was tired from nights spent traversing a path from her room to my own. I passed a woman, standing on the bike path with her daughter who was straddling a two-wheel bike without training wheels. The woman smiled, “It goes by quick,” she said, “Enjoy your little girl.” I smiled, a cliché often repeated to new mothers. I kept walking. My baby tucked in her stroller that woman’s life appeared eons away. I couldn’t imagine my baby speaking in full sentences, let alone a child riding her own bike. I mused, life with a big kid looked peaceful and definitely less draining. She appeared to get more rest than me.

The moment, a cliché, a mere blip on my radar … until now.

My daughter is five-years-old. She received a two-wheel bike without training wheels for her birthday. She began kindergarten. No one informs you how difficult this milestone is. I am letting innocence personified walk out of my protective shell. Her classroom brims full of twenty-five five-year-olds. I give her a kiss and drop her on the curb. I can no longer help her find someone to play with. I can no longer nudge her to speak up for herself. I can no longer protect her from the brutality of the real world.

I begin the process of letting go. The girl who blasted me out of my professional life transitions into her elementary years. Now I realize how quickly this moment will come for her sister and brother too. What seemed my forever is fleeting. Inevitably each child will leave. Parenting small children is a chapter, not a book. One day sooner rather than later, I too will extricate myself from this tight nest and must redefine my trajectory.

My oldest emerges from our shell. She begins to find her own path. Everyday I let her go. The transition becomes easier. We both enjoy our new independence. And luckily, I’m realizing it’s just kindergarten, so when she returns home I am a cascade of fierce mommy love and kisses.

 

success-graph-demetri-martin-squiggly-line Success Chart by Demetri Martin

Five-Years-Old, Kindergarten, and Ripping My Heart From My Chest

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For me five-years-old is kindergarten. Today she is five tomorrow she starts kindergarten.  She will be in school all day. For the first time I will drop her off at the curb instead of holding her hand and guiding her to her class. She will be in a room with 26 five-year-olds. For all the new moms out there, this milestone is hard. It seems like it will never happen, but then it happens, and it happens fast.

My shining star, beating heart, quiet, sweet, and innocent baby is going to kindergarten.

Yesterday she spent twenty minutes being assessed by her teacher and maybe said three words – painful, gut-wrenching, grab my heart with your bare hands and rip it from my chest – all words to describe being a mother of a painfully shy child starting a new school year.

“I spelled one word perfectly,” she told me as we left her school assessment.

“Which word?” I asked.

“No,” she said, “N-O-A.”

In other words, (1) her teacher did not learn much in the assessment, (2) I maybe should have spent more time practicing letters with her this summer, and (3) I wanted to grab her (teacher) and shake her and tell her how sensitive, brilliant, and special my baby is. My heart literally breaks sending her into a giant classroom.  I feel as if I am releasing her into a pack of  Wild Dogs.

I fear that since she is quiet her teachers and classmates might miss her sparkle.

I want everyone to see her SPARKLE. She is spectacular.

She is my first visit to the Southern Hemisphere, a dark night with no electricity for hundreds of miles. I tilt my head back and look up into the night sky. There is a magnificent carpet of stars and as my eyes skim the horizon, I see the Southern Cross.

She is the cold sand between my toes, quiet, and peaceful with a glowing moon overhead. I tentatively stick my foot into the saltwater and – POW – glowing phosphorescence swirl around my feet. I swipe my toes across the water and a glowing trail follows it.

This is my daughter.

She walks on her toes – a quirk – some say a problem. When she was three-years-old, I asked her P.E. teacher about it. Her reply, “Some of the fastest runners in elementary school are the kids who walked on their toes.”

My five-year-old is fast. She is confident about her speed. “I am the fastest,” she says, challenging anyone to a race. Long legs and endless endurance, she loves to run.

She is an observer. She learns visually. She may be the most observant person I have ever met. I too like to observe. She hasn’t yet learned it’s impolite to stare, but she is watching the way the world works, soaking it all in, and remembering the details.

My girl has been to three new schools in three years. We had bad luck with preschools. She is nervous, introducing herself into each new situation. It is scary going to new schools. She gets anxious. Each year on the first day she does not cry. She walks right in. She says goodbye and lets me leave. She tells me to leave. My daughter is the essence of BRAVE.

She is learning to make friends, learning to ask others to play, and to join a crowd of her peers. She watches. She learns. At the beginning of her pre-kindergarten year, I asked her what she did during free play at school.

“I play puzzles.”

“Why?” I asked.

“I can do it on my own.” At first I considered this a sad response, but then realized this is a SMART response. She knows how to handle new situations on her own. She knows what games she can play by herself and be happy.

First she circled the girls she wanted to play with like a humming bird she gracefully hovered nearby. She circled them until they asked her to play. She was with a group of kids many of whom had been at the same school for three years and she gradually learned to play with them. 

 *****

She is generosity. Her heart is gold.

“Wow,” her teacher whispered. My daughter received a chocolate covered strawberry at her end of the year party. When her sister and I picked her up it was untouched. She smiled and offered her sister the first taste. “Most kids don’t do that,” her teacher confided.

She is kindness.

This summer I told the girls they would receive a treat if they participated in their swim class. Her little sister screamed by the pool, refusing to participate. She stayed dry loudly. My oldest swam. She kicked and suddenly her freestyle looked like freestyle. “You get a treat,” I told my big girl proudly as her sister screamed in the car seat beside her.

I gave my oldest a gummy peach. As I put the car in reverse, I peered into the rear view mirror. My daughter bit the gummy in half and handed half to her sister.

 She is patience

*****

“She sings like a bird,” a schoolmate whispered to his mother.

First day of school and her pre-k teacher asked her name. I gently elbowed her, pushing her to respond. Silence. Sometimes she hides within herself like a rollie pollie bug, folding into itself at the slightest touch. This year she feared asking for a pencil. She feared asking to go to the bathroom. She had an accident. We (her teachers and parents) were concerned.

 But then …

At preschool graduation my daughter stood in front of her entire class and ALL their parents and sang. She sang beautifully. She sang loudly.

“Are you nervous,” I asked.

“No mom,” she rolled her eyes as if I was crazy.

My four-year-old sang. “Peace like a river, I know peace like a river, I know peace like a river in my soul.” The words poured from her mouth and tears spilled from my eyes. She is meant to sing.

Since she was two-years-old she sang in tune.

She is a performer.

The night before preschool graduation, she danced in a recital in front of literally hundreds of people. I was nervous. “Are you nervous?” I asked, dropping her off with over a hundred dancers from classes across the city hours before the show.

“No Mom.” Again, huge eye roll, (I’ve been getting a lot of those lately).

She performed beautifully. Grace personified. She moved across the stage. I underestimated her ability.

“She is a ballerina,” my ex-ballerina sister gushed over the phone after watching the video. “I tease you guys about your dancing, but Justine, she is good.” I let the words sink in.

Acting camp. She knew no one. At the end of the week performance her words rang loud and clear.

My daughter is a star.

Her Elsa rendition – out of this world.

The Hans and Anna duet with her dad – show stopping.

Annie songs – impeccable.

Daring, this summer my daughter jumped on a horse bareback, grabbed its mane, and eagerly kicked it to trot.

A photographic memory, she beats me at memory cards. (I am sleep deprived but her mind is mystifying).

She draws hyenas, foxes, elephants, and portraits of her family in amazing detail.

She is still passionate about hyenas. Foxes are a close second.

This year we read books by Roald Dahl, E.B. White, and Judy Blume. Fudge is our favorite.

She is not scared of spiders or snakes.

She is gorgeous with big brown eyes, curly hair, eyelashes that will never need mascara, dark skin, and long legs. Her looks are a beautiful mixture of her Dad and me.

She is strong. She repeatedly swings herself across the monkey bars.

She will be the youngest in her class. As her mother, I worry whether we made the right decision or whether we should have kept her in preschool for one more year.

But then …

“It’s my turn,” she snapped loudly, pushing herself in front of a group of girls at a birthday party. Her newly found confidence is music to my ears.

We go to the park and she gets on the swing. All of a sudden, her legs stretch out and her body leans slightly back. Her knees bend and she leans forward the slightest bit. The swing gets higher and higher. My daughter soars. Her legs stretch into the trees. A sign.

“Look at me,” she shouts. She’s got it. The monkey bars, the swings, the rock wall, my five-year-old dominates the playground. Back and forth she goes, higher and higher, my baby bird soars free. She is brilliant. She is beauty. She is strength.

Five years ago, she pulled the heart from my chest and this girl holds it there.

“What do you want for your birthday?” I ask.

“Stuffed hyenas, balls to play all different sports, and a bike without training wheels.”

The best answer ever. After this birthday, she will own every hyena ever manufactured.

Wow, she is the coolest.

***** 

Dear Teacher,

Please work hard to discover that my daughter is so much more than her assessment.  You will love what you see. Please help her make a friend.

Sincerely,

A mother who loves her daughter fiercely and completely.

P.S.

I know this may be a little helicoptery, but the toilet flush in the girls bathroom at school is really confusing.  I hope you explain it to the kids. (It’s one of those big 1970s circular flushes you kick with your feet).  I am kicking myself that I didn’t take her into the bathroom and show her how it works. I know I am already borderline being labeled “Crazy Mom”, so I am refraining from emailing you about this before the first day of school.  

(Instead I am posting a pretend email on my blog – CRAZY).

Worries Clouded by Privilege

I am a worrier.   As a child I was a worrier. I lay in bed and worried. I worried about my family. If anyone went out in the evening, I lay awake and worried until they came home. I worried there would be an accident, a drunk driver, a catastrophic event, a mugging or a murder. My mind went and still goes crazy with worry. I never feel safe until the family is safely tucked in their beds. Even then I plan escape routes in the case that someone breaks into my home. Where do I hide when I dial 9-1-1? Who grabs the children? Where do we wait until the police arrive?

I am a worrier. I worry about crazy things.

Growing up in Boulder, Colorado, my brother and his friends got into the typical teenage mischief, even a little more than the typical mischief. My friends and I did the same. As teenagers weekend nights were spent drinking beer and schnapps in parks around town. Summer nights we hopped fences and went swimming in private pools. As we got older we crashed college parties. We were typical teenagers participating in typically harmless illegal activity. Most of these nights the cops would come. Sirens piercing the night air, the heavy thud of official fists pounding on front doors.   The cops came. We ran. We ran, jumped fences and crossed private property. We sprinted away as fast as we could. Teenagers breaking the law. They shouted at us to stop. Some of my friends laughed. The rebellious shouted profanities in return.

I am a worrier. I worry about everything. I worry about the craziest things. I never worried that a police officer would shoot me. I never worried that an officer would shoot my brother. I never worried that they would shoot any of my asshole friends. If you asked me if it ever crossed my mind whether an officer might pull his gun and shoot at us?

I’d respond – “ludicrous, inconceivable, crazy” – not something I worried about.

I am a worrier. I worry about crazy things.

I met my husband when we were in our early twenties. His pants sagged below his boxers, a hoody draped over his head. When he walked home from the bars late at night I never worried that police officers might stop and frisk him. I never worried that a neighborhood watchman would follow him and pull out a gun.  I never worried that an attitude toward authority would get him shot. His parents never worried about these things.

Even though I am a worrier and I worry about crazy things.

We live in a world that is not color blind. We live in a world of the haves and have-nots. We live in a world where black boys are shot unarmed just for being black boys. We live in a world where an 18-year-old black man is shot multiple times by a police officer weeks before he goes to college. We live in a world where the media criminalizes black victims by memorializing them with photos that make them look like thugs. We live in a world where a neighborhood watchman murders an African American teenager under the guise of “self-defense”. The teenager’s act of aggression – being black.

My daughter starts kindergarten in a couple of weeks and I am sick with worry. The list is long – will she be lost in the classroom, will she speak up for herself, will she make a friend, will she have someone to sit with at lunch and play with at recess.  The start of a long list of worries.

But then, I pause to think. I am the mother of a white girl. My worries are drenched in white privilege. If my children’s skin were a different color then there would be real worries.

My heart hurts for the mothers of black boys who have to worry about prejudice that I cannot even fathom. A world where police officers don’t represent safety.  A world where there is no presumption of innocence.  A world where their children must learn to convince people of their good.

I am a worrier.  I worry about crazy things.  

America has reason to worry.

Racism exists. The world is not color blind. We must not cast a blind eye. How many unarmed black men must die before society makes changes?

#Ferguson #RIP #TrayvonMartin #MichaelBrown

Please read Sarah Bessey’s essay about Ferguson.  She describes the situation eloquently.

P.S.

I did not edit this essay.  I felt the need to say something. 

Mom Guilt – I Will Do Better

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My head is heavy on my pillow. I roll over in my bed, trying to turn my brain off. It is time to sleep for hopefully three hours until the baby wakes me for his midnight snack. Instead I endure a mental pummeling. Why did I get so impatient when my four-year old treated the minivan like a jungle gym? I raise my voice too often. I tell them to hurry too much. I’m not a fun mom. I don’t read enough with the baby, his bedtime routine is non-existent. I was on the phone when I should have been playing with my three-year-old. I must schedule more special individual time with each of my kids.

Thoughts hit rapid fire, they don’t listen, is there something wrong with them, do other preschoolers listen better? Is their behavior normal? Is there something wrong with my parenting? Are my expectations too high? Am I putting unnecessary pressure on my oldest? Should I sleep train the baby? Will sleep training cause emotional problems?

I am so tired.

Pow. Bang. Boom. The punches keep coming. I take the blows like a professional, but I feel them hard in my gut. I gasp for breath, the guilt. I am a crappy mom. I must do better! I feel defeated.

I make a promise to myself.

Tomorrow I won’t raise my voice. Tomorrow I will be “fun” mommy. Tomorrow I will be less stressed and smile more. Tomorrow I will look at my phone less and play with my kids more. Tomorrow we will eat healthy foods. Tomorrow everyone will brush teeth morning and night. Tomorrow there will be less screen time. Tomorrow I will participate in child directed imaginary play (good for their self-esteem). Tomorrow I will get two loads of laundry done at least. I will return friends’ phone calls. I will be a better mom. I will be a better wife. I will be a better friend. I will be the fun parent.

                                                                       *****

I suffer from mom guilt. Every night I unleash an internal assault upon myself. It has gotten worse since the girls have gotten older and seem to deliberately antagonize each other and myself. I know I’m not alone. We all feel it. However, recently I discovered a temporary scapegoat for my mom guilt rage – Hands Free Mama.

Instead of directing my frustration at myself, my husband, my children or my dogs, I am directing my mom guilt anger at the Hands Free Mama. Her essays about putting the phone down, not yelling and not telling her children to hurry up have gone viral. I wholeheartedly agree that nothing is as important as the time we spend with our children. Further, she insists that we must focus on our young children because we will never get this precious time back (a true but very guilt inducing message).

She has one post in particular, The Day I Stopped Saying Hurry Up that makes me feel exceedingly guilty. The angelic mama eliminated “hurry up” from her vocabulary. One of her children was a “stop and smell the roses” type of child. Before becoming Hands Free, the writer lived a frazzled life. She told the child to hurry up. Then enlightenment struck, she realized she bullied her child by rushing her and decided that she would be more patient. Just like that, she reformed. She accepted her child for who she was and started scheduling herself at her daughter’s pace. Sometimes they were late, but she acknowledged “… I will be late only for a few years, if that, while she is young”.

In theory, I agree with the Hands Free Mama. My children are paramount. My time with them is priceless and I must do my best to enjoy my time with them without distraction. But, and this is a big but, I must do this in the context of the real world.

Hands Free Mama makes me (and possibly others) feel like bad mothers. Her perfection makes me mad. Maybe my anger stems from jealousy of her seemingly endless patience and energy? Or maybe it’s because she makes millions of women feel guilty because we fail to live up to her standards by setting our agendas to our preschoolers’ time clocks. We aspire to live as she does, but we fail because we are women who have jobs, household responsibilities and other children, in other words, full and busy lives.

American society has become very child-centric. Parenting theories a la the Hands Free Mama, tell us that we must focus even more on our children. If they act out, they are feeling ignored, so we must have time-ins rather than time-outs. We must never raise our voices. We must never be distracted when we interact with them. We must schedule our lives around endless afternoon activities. We must never get frustrated when our children don’t listen. We must. We must … And if we don’t, we are parenting failures.

We put too much pressure on ourselves to be too many things. We are human. Humans raise their voices. Humans get impatient. Humans sometimes need to make phone calls, respond to emails or meet work deadlines when their children are present.

Being human is not a disservice to our children. The real world is not going to revolve around our grown children.  As adults they will have to show up on time to school, interviews and work. Their future bosses, acquaintances, friends, husbands and wives will be human. They will be human and sometimes will raise their voices, make mistakes, be distracted and be busy. We must teach our children to forgive them when they do these things.

Children learn what it means to be human from their parents. Isn’t it best that we prepare our children for an imperfect world? I aspire to spend undistracted time with my children, to refrain from telling them to hurry up, to not raise my voice, to be patient and to spend quality time with each of them.

Most likely through the course of a day, I will sometimes be patient, undistracted, calm and fun, but I will also sometimes raise my voice, be impatient and distracted. If I am the un-pretty version of myself, I will apologize to them, I will try to do better and I will try to forgive myself for not being a“perfect” parent. My children will learn that I am human (as they are too) and make mistakes, but also learn the importance of taking responsibility for their own mistakes and saying sorry.

I Know a Dog

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I know a dog that thinks he is a person.

I know a dog that wouldn’t think of sleeping on a dog bed.

I know a dog that forced his humans to buy a king sized mattress.

I know a dog that can’t be bothered sharing a room with a newborn. Night waking is not his thing.

I know a dog that left his parents’ bed a few days after baby #1 was born but returned to their bed when she moved into her crib.

I know a dog that left the bed again when baby #2 arrived, but again returned when she moved to her own room.

I know a dog that left his human parents’ bed the minute baby#3 was conceived. His human mom didn’t even know she was pregnant. The dog knew. He thought they were insane. He still has not come back.

I know a dog that sometimes pretends the kids do not exist.

I know a dog that at night snuck into the girls’ bedroom, jumped in their beds and stole their favorite stuffed animals to carry around the house.

I know a dog that was bred to tree bears, but is scared of people with strange haircuts and hats.

I know a dog that acted out when baby #3 came home – no more kids – enough is enough.

I know a dog that in 2014 destroyed a princess lunch box, a cat lunch box, a dinosaur lunch box, two fox lunch boxes, a panda bear lunchbox and three fox backpacks.

I know a dog that when baby #3 was just a couple weeks old devoured a giant Costco size container of Jelly Belly jellybeans (64oz). The bloated dog wandered the house, whimpering for hours while his human parents worried. That night the minute the human mom sat on the couch to relax after getting three babies to bed, the dog jumped on her lap and spewed rainbow color vomit all over her and the sofa.

I know a dog that has had his tail pulled, face grabbed, been climbed on and bitten by barbaric small people but has never snapped back.

I know a dog that didn’t acknowledge the existence of baby #3 until he started eating solids.  Now he licks baby feet daily.

I know a dog that runs to the door when his mom puts on yoga pants and running shoes in hopes that he will get walk.

I know a dog that was born to run unleashed in the mountains.

I know a dog that more often than not walks sandwiched between two strollers around the park in the city.

I know a dog that could choose to hide in the closet and avoid the chaos of three children under five like his Basset Hound sister.

I know a dog that always chooses to be part of the action, lying in the center of stuffed animal picnics, hiding in blanket forts and always cuddling up for story time.

I know a dog that is depressed when his family goes on vacations without him.

I know a dog that didn’t like the children but now lies with them on the couch.

I know a dog that has the loudest howl in the neighborhood.

I know a dog that is lightning fast.

I know a dog whose cerebral cortex shuts down when tennis balls are around.

I know a dog that like his human dad became exponentially grayer with each additional child.

I know a dog that is indispensable at mealtime, cleaning all the crumbs and licking messy hands.

I know a dog that after four years has grown picky as to what food he eats off the floor at meal times.

I know a dog that got me walking even when it was 90 degrees outside and I was 41 weeks pregnant.

I know a dog that has gracefully been through the ups and downs of eight years of marriage and the birth of three children.

I know a dog that was at the top of the totem pole and is still pretty high up there.

I know a dog that now sleeps covered in stuffed animals on a certain four-year-olds bed.

I know a dog that will be magically woven into three children’s childhood memories.

I know a dog that pretends he doesn’t like the kids but accepts them in his family.

I know a dog that sometimes acts as the scapegoat for his human mommy’s wrath.

I know a dog that is fine with that.

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A Boy. A Gun. A Crisis

The police found him hiding behind the cushion of an outdoor lounge chair. A seventeen-year old kid, who looked more like a man than a child. Sirens sounded and he crawled behind the cushion of a lounge chair in the backyard of the house he had broken in to.

He was caught in a twisted version of hide-and-seek. Scared, he hid. He hid in a spot that my three-year-old would choose, face covered, adult limbs protruding in the sunlight. Like a child his face hidden from view – if he couldn’t see out then maybe they couldn’t see in.

If I can’t see you then you can’t see me.

I read his case file. Low IQ, IEP, truancy, sick mother, abusive father, a boy lost in the system.

A young man, whose developmental state was that of a young child.

A boy – hidden, scared, and with a gun.

They heard the sirens. His friends ran, a loose term to describe his partners in crime. They ran, hopped a fence and disappeared. But the boy hid. He hid behind the chair cushion with a Glock handgun tucked into his waistband.

I sat next to him. His hands and ankles shackled. “Do you know why you are here?” I asked kindly. “You are being charged with second degree burglary and unlawful possession of a firearm.” His eyes grew large. The legal terms floating in the air around us.

“When can I go home?” his voice cracked. I could smell his breath as he spoke.

His mother was crying across the room. He had no record. “This can’t be right. He can’t go to jail. This can’t be his story. He is a nice boy,” she repeated.

I tried to explain – to the boy, to his mother. “You had a gun. You had a handgun in your jeans, and you were found in a stranger’s home. You are not going home. This is serious. You are being charged with a felony.”

I spoke to the boy in a man’s body. He told me his story.

He took the bus home from school. Some guys told him they needed cash. They asked him if he wanted to get some cash. The boy agreed. He didn’t know their names. He wanted money. His mom needed money. He wanted friends. He was lonely. He did not understand.

They chose a house by the bus route. They would enter through the backdoor and sneak up the steps. They would leave in under ten minutes. His “friends” stuck the gun in the waist of his jeans. It was stolen, reported missing in a burglary weeks earlier. Purchased for protection and swept away in a wave of gang violence.

 *****

Afternoon activities differ in different neighborhoods. Working with juveniles, I quickly realized how often Denver burglaries and car thefts are perpetrated by children. Hitting up houses is an afternoon activity for some kids. These kids who will get probation or detention when they’re 17, but who are blown away when they turn 18, do not pass go, do not collect $200 and go straight to prison.

Juvenile crime leads to adult recidivism that leads to massive prison overpopulation where there is a gross lack of funding for rehabilitation, which equates to adult recidivism and more juvenile crime. This crisis stems from a broken social safety net, which includes a failing public educational system, racial inequities, poverty, homelessness, absentee parents, violence, abuse, boredom, amongst many other social ills. An endless list of societal problems that are cyclical where it becomes impossible to decipher where lies the cause and where is the effect.

What is clear when you spend time in the juvenile courtrooms is:

(1)  The majority of juvenile defendants in the criminal justice system have open case files where they are the victims of dependency and neglect.

(2)  The majority of juvenile defendants qualify for the public defender, which means they live in poverty.

*****

Crime is less scary when you are familiar with the perpetrators. When you become acquainted with the humans behind the crime, you understand that the majority of offenders are not the monsters that haunt your nightmares. Of course there are exceptions, but most defendants are individuals with an unfair lot in life – human beings making horrible choices.

Juvenile crime scares me. Again the juveniles themselves are not scary, but what scares me is they just don’t understand. Like my four-year old who doesn’t get that climbing on the furniture may cause her to fall and get hurt. The juvenile defendants don’t understand that a gun is not a prop. They don’t understand that with the slight pull of a trigger finger someone can die.

They don’t understand the simple concept:

Boy pulls trigger of gun –> Victim dies –>Death is forever –>Boy gets life in prison –>Boy is never going home.

Consequences, kids don’t get them.  As a parent I repeat, “No climbing on furniture” as an attorney “Guns are dangerous. Stay out of trouble” until I become blue in the face, but often become frustrated because my daughter and the juveniles in the courtroom never listen. Sometimes lessons aren’t learned until you hit rock bottom. Sometimes it takes a kid is sitting in shackles in a courtroom to learn (and that is the best case scenario).

 *****

This boy was seventeen. Just under the wire, a couple months shy of his eighteenth birthday, he might get juvenile probation, a few months in the county jail when he turns 18, a second chance. I would fight to get him a second chance.

He sat alone in the courtroom. Tears filled his eyes. A choice. A gun. A house. A crime.

He hid behind a cushion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Know a Guy …

Jamee Photography - Wedding 2006 007

 

I know a guy with deep-set dark eyes that sparkle when he smiles.

 

I know a guy that for years never washed his hair because the dirt kept it tame. “I hope the kids have your hair,” he laughed.

 

I know a guy who moved to Colorado and was asked to be a hair model.

 

I know a guy who is extremely handsome, but doesn’t know it. Or maybe he does.

 

I know a guy that listens to endless amounts of sports radio.

 

I know a guy that when it comes to sports (among other things), he is BRILLIANT. Sports trivia, he should be everyone’s ‘phone a friend’.

 

I know a guy who uses aerosol deodorant. Ugh. Years ago when he and his girlfriend backpacked through Europe he “sprayed” his clothes with Right Guard to clean them. His girlfriend experienced chemical asphyxiation each time she hugged him.

 

I know a guy who 13 years later still uses the same noxious substance.

 

I know a guy who does laundry nearly every day and becomes exasperated by the way his wife and daughters shed their clothes with their underwear still in the pants and socks in each pant leg.

 

I know a guy who sings Frozen duets with his daughter in the shower.

 

I know a guy that grew up with no sisters and hardly any friends of the opposite sex, but was happy to grow old surrounded women.

 

I know a guy who didn’t wish for a son, and grew irritated by everyone who presumed he wanted anything other than his daughters.

 

I know a guy who didn’t need a boy, but got a boy.

 

I know a guy that kisses that boy and his girls every day.

 

I know a guy who can’t wait to play sports with his son and daughters.

 

I know a guy who works hard all day supporting his family and comes home to help with dinner, dishes, and bedtime.

 

I know a guy who works extremely hard and tells his wife that she works harder.

 

I know a guy who chooses to spend time with his wife.

 

I know a guy who went camping for the first time in his late twenties and now wants to camp every summer.

 

I know a guy who is truly his wife’s best friend.

 

I know a guy who hates bugs and is scared of snakes.

 

I know a guy who sometimes loses his temper, but knows how to say sorry.

 

I know a guy who loves air conditioning and his wife negotiated a deal that he could control the thermostat if she never had to look at the electric bill when they first co-habitated.

 

I know a guy who is slowly losing control of the thermostat.

 

I know a guy who fills the bath with bubbles and hides princess figures in the tub, so his girls get clean searching for them.

 

I know a guy who gets swept away coloring with his kids, meticulously drawing their favorite cartoon characters out of sidewalk chalk on the fence. Sometimes his wife rolls her eyes, “The kids aren’t coloring anymore … You are supposed to be playing with them!”

 

I know a guy who two years ago got upset when his toddler crushed his beautiful sand castles.

 

I know a guy who now sometimes laughs when his toddler knocks over his block, sand or lego creations.

 

I know a guy who told his wife she was beautiful every day throughout three pregnancies.

 

I know a guy who tells his wife she is beautiful even when she hasn’t showered, brushed her hair or put on makeup.

 

I know a guy who feels pain when his wife cries.

 

I know a guy who loves all things that start with the letter P. Pittsburgh. Pickles. Penguins. Platypus. Perogies. Plott Hounds. This guy loves P so much that when he found out that his daughter’s preschool class had parent volunteers to teach each letter of the alphabet, he knew he must have P week.

 

I know a guy who was crestfallen when another parent signed up for P week.

 

I know a guy whose wife negotiated a letter week trade with an unknown parent because her husband LOVES the letter “P”.

 

I know a guy who is now known as “Mr. Pickle” because he hosted a pickle tasting in his daughter’s classroom for P week.

 

I know a guy who loves fashion and often predicts the upcoming trends.

 

I know a guy who likes to spend a lot of money on obscure designer clothing.

 

I know a guy who buys beautiful clothes for his wife – just because.

 

I know a guy who loves to give gifts and wraps them beautifully.

 

I know a guy who is athletic. He runs fast, throws a ball further than anyone I know and has an amazing free throw.

 

I know a guy who shoots hoops so well that he wins prizes for his children at amusement parks.

 

I know a guy who seems normal, but may be the weirdest guy I’ve ever met.

 

I know a guy addicted to gummies – especially peachy penguins.

 

I know a guy who gets along with octogenarians better than any other group of people.

 

I know a guy who is loyal to no end.

 

I know a guy who loves the Lord of the Rings.

 

I know a guy who must watch the Steelers in real time – no recordings – much to the exasperation of his wife.

 

I know a guy who drinks sweet coffee – Creamer. Sweet and Low. The works.

 

I know a guy who is not afraid to order fruity drinks at a restaurant.

 

I know a guy who can be misunderstood.

 

I know a guy who hates fajitas, the sizzling spotlight.

 

I know a guy who deserves to be in the spotlight.

 

I know a guy who met a girl at a bar.

 

I know a guy who spilled a beer on that girl at the bar … or maybe the girl spilled the beer on him?

 

I know a guy who drove that girl to New York City to meet her father.

 

I know a guy who introduced her to all his grandparents along the way.

 

I know a guy that sat at a diner with her father and told him he wanted to be a pediatric neurosurgeon and discussed his ‘philosophy of love’.

 

I know a guy who decided to be a family practice doctor, so he could spend time with his family.

 

I know a guy who never ate fish – an alleged allergy.

 

I know a guy whose girlfriend convinced him to try fish.

 

I know a guy who now likes sushi.

 

I know a guy who married that girl.

 

I know a guy who is a role model for my son.

 

I know a guy and I hope my daughters find men like him.

 

I know a guy who will be embarrassed by this essay.

 

I know a guy and he knows me.

 

My love – Happy 8th Anniversary – I hope we last forever.