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

A Boy. A Gun. A Crisis

Note: The characters and facts of this story are fictional.

****

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.