Saturday I got a summons to jury duty (in two weeks). I hate being summoned for jury duty, but not because I don't want to serve: I hate being summoned because I can never get on a jury. Because my b-in-law is a cop, this attorney presumes I'm automatically going to believe anything said by a person in blue. Because I'm related to crime victims, I'm presumed to be anti-defendant. Because I worked for the welfare department, the other attorney presumes I'm a bleeding heart liberal who doesn't want anyone locked up. Because I am a white person with a rainbow family, I'm presumed to believe all people of color are just misunderstood. It's only a question of which side sends me home first. But still, I have to show up, sit around for ages, and wait to be sent home as unneeded or questioned until some attorney decides he or she knows how I will judge and then sends me home anyway. It's a waste of my time and effort. On the jury duty summons, there is a list of disqualifications on the back (in a conservatorship, incapacitated, medically ineligible, etc.). Why not just add all the other 'unofficial' disqualifications? Let me send that card back saying I'm related to a cop and therefore mindlessly pro-cop; I'm a mother of daughters of color and therefore mindlessly anti-cop; I'm a former eligibility worker and therefore mindlessly pro-accused; and I'm a mother of crime victims and therefore mindlessly anti-accused. It would save all of us the hassle.
And the chairs are always so awful. My poor broken tailbone.
The last teen dropped off in Nebraska before their safe shelter law was amended was from my town here. An unnamed mother drove over a thousand miles to leave her fourteen-year-old son in the care of officials there. At first glance, I thought, "oh, that poor boy," but then my thoughts turned to the mother. She spent at least two days driving, with her son in the car the entire time, knowing she was going to give him away, feeling that she had no other options. There is an almost unimaginable amount of pain implicit in that situation. It is so easy to judge, to say "just get help," but what to do when there is no help? Or the help is so marginal, it is worse than nothing? What if your child desperately needs mental health care but your insurance will only allow one visit every four to six weeks? What if you can get a bag or two of free food but what you really need is money to keep the power on so you can cook what food you do have? What about when an unforeseeable crisis arrives and people come out of the woodwork to say they've got your back but then when you do ask for help, there isn't any forthcoming? (They didn't really mean it, you see; they were just mouthing platitudes and patting themselves on the back for having the sense not to get into that sort of a situation.)
It is difficult at best to be a parent. Every child is an individual with her own distinct needs and issues; what works for one won't work for another. When you add to that the stresses of living paycheck to paycheck, of being a single parent or otherwise not having a strong support network, of having a child with physical or emotional or development issues, it isn't surprising that some parents turn their children over to the state, it's surprising that more parents DON'T.
What can people do to help? Be aware. If you can, give money. Give it generously and with no strings attached--you don't know what the most pressing need is at that moment. Give anonymously if possible; the need for gratitude can be corrosive. If you can't give money, give time--take the children for an afternoon or sit with an elderly person so the caregiver can go to a movie or out shopping or back to your home to take a nap. If you don't know someone personally in that tough a situation but want to help, there are so many ways. Find a local organization that provides direct assistance (lawn mowing, housework, home repairs) to those in need. Play the piano in a nursing home, or play cribbage with one of the residents. Donate to a local community center, so children have a safe place to go. Sponsor a scholarship to a sports organization, so some low-income child can play and wear a uniform and look just like all the other children. Sponsor a child in a scouting or similar organization, for the same reason. Donate to a local senior center or art center that provides classes, so a low-income senior or child or stressed parent can get out and participate in things that would otherwise be unattainable. Go to your local animal shelter and walk a dog or cuddle a kitty or clean cages. Go to the blood bank and donate a pint (if you're ineligible to donate, you can volunteer at their snack counter or something). Help a local kindergarten teacher clean her classroom at the end of the day (and buy her crayons if you can). If you want to help a person or family directly, contact a local pastor. They know who in their congregations is having a tough time and can tell you what sort of help might be useful (grocery store gift cards, coupons for oil changes, payments on the utility bill, etc.). If you see a homeless person but don't want to give money that might go to alcohol or drugs, buy that person lunch, or a give him a bag of food for his dog.
Above all, be kind. Maybe it is someone's fault, maybe it could have happened to anyone, who knows. Whatever the situation is, it IS, regardless of the reason, and suffering is suffering. Don't assume you understand a particular situation: maybe your second cousin's experience ten years ago really does mirror what someone else is going through, but maybe it doesn't. Stay aware and put your vote towards things that will help make things better. You can't legislate good parenting or good luck or personal support networks or personal competence, but you can help put support networks in place for those caught up in troubles.
Whew--it felt good to get that off my chest. Imagine the pain that led up to that drive, of that mother and son trapped together in their vehicle for all those hours. I am so sad for both of them. I've been there and I know that level of despair.
Today the babies are coming, and their older sister (MissN, she is three) is coming too. Today and tomorrow, all three children. Thank goodness KidThree is out of school this week and will be home to help. It will be interesting to see how it goes.
And then Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Family, friends, food, and a chance to stop and remember how lucky so many of us are. This year, as always, I'm thankful for my girls. I'm thankful that KidOne is doing well in school and at work and is on track to attain her long-term goals. I'm thankful that KidTwo gets to be such a magical presence in her baby brother's life and that she calls me when she needs support. I'm thankful that KidThree has turned an important emotional corner and is ready to live a full life from her wheelchair. I'm thankful that my parents are still here and that I've had the chance to get to know them as an adult and parent myself, instead of having only a child's perspective of them. I'm thankful to have a roof over my head, heat on demand, indoor plumbing, and food in the kitchen. And I'm thankful for friends who care, because it would be way too difficult to do this all on my own.