Caveat emptor

>> Sunday, April 11, 2010

I've said it before: I don't like to write about work for all sorts of good reasons. But in light of the weekend's biggest WTF? news item, seems I should mention my Mondays and Thursdays.

On Mondays and Thursdays in the county where I practice law, juvenile court is held. Now, in North Carolina (and I assume in most or all other states), juveniles (in North Carolina that would be anyone under the age of sixteen--happily not the law in most states, where the age is set higher) are presumed indigent and automatically get appointed counsel. Within the public defender's office in which I'm employed, I assign those cases when we get them, tend to handle the most serious ones, and generally am the one to step in and handle juvie cases where our office is appointed but nobody's been assigned (these are typically detention cases--kids who were picked up and are being held pending adjudication, i.e trial; sometimes our office hasn't even received paperwork--e.g a kid who was arrested over the weekend). So, most Mondays and Thursdays, I'm spending a good chunk of the day in juvie court.

A lot of the kids in juvie court are just good kids who screwed up in some basic way. But you also have a lot of kids who, basically good or not, have lost the genetic or social lottery that imparts the ability to control actions at all; they're bipolar, pre-schizophrenic, have vaguely-defined "behaviorial disorders" or in some cases just have really, really bad parents.

Sometimes--and these are some of the worst days on the job, days when you want to throttle somebody--a parent with a child in detention comes in and says they don't want their kid, won't take the child home because they can't control the kid, the kid is too angry, or violent, or threatening, or out-of-control, or too something. Maybe the kid is in detention and every pro up in the courtroom is saying the kid could go home and just needs "services," that vague but sweet word for evaluations and counseling and perhaps medication--and I don't mean to be dismissive: you have no idea how sweet "services," whatever they might happen to be, really are until you represent a kid for whom they're "unavailable" and nobody knows what to do with a child who, like most kids, has something touching or sweet or awesome about them. Or maybe the kid isn't in detention and a parent is still saying they don't want their own child.

And a lot of times you want to strangle the parent with your bare hands.

Y'know, I'm not a parent. I really don't plan on being one at this stage of my life. It was something that was important to me when I was younger but fell away, and I don't think I'd want to have kids now; never-say-never and all that, but it's a kinda crappy world to bring them into at the moment. But I have never heard or seen any evidence that parenting was going to be easy even if you had a "normal" child (if such a creature exists). And maybe more importantly, I never heard where you were entitled to a "normal" kid--as far as I knew, if you had a kid, he or she was your kid and unless you put the kid up for adoption you were on the hook for all the joy and awfulness that might ensue. If the kid's a superman, hey, nice for you, but if the kid has, what's that euphemism, issues, well, y'know, still your kid, this is what you enlisted for.

Of course, we now all know what these parents who come into court and reject their progeny did wrong: what you should do, if you're entitled to a perfect little angel (and who isn't?), is adopt from Russia so you can send the kid back while it's still under warranty. Kinda like a TV set with a fuzzy picture, right, or a music player with a bad drive. Children, it turns out, are like Kindles and iPods: if the product doesn't quite work out as expected, please put in original box and send back with your receipt, refunds may take 7-10 days to process and clear your account.

Or perhaps Russia can send Torry Hansen a factory-new replacement. Some companies will do that.

Anyway, as for the parents I deal with, damn shame they can't pin notes to their children and buy them plane tickets back to their wombs. Delta and U.S. Air don't have scheduled flights to anyone's uterus, but maybe a small or regional carrier like Southwestern or JetBlue flies in and out of a few; check Expedia.

Speaking of places one didn't want to go: I wasn't sure I wasn't going to ignore this whole thing, opinions being like assholes and all that. But Tracy Clark-Flory at Salon, perhaps along with some other people, seems to think that this is mostly about the Russian adoption system and "It is tragic all around." It isn't. Its about an unfit mother who took a cruel, callous, amoral and ugly way out of a situation she created for herself by choosing to have a kid in the first place and it's tragic for a clearly messed-up little boy whose emotional development cannot possibly be helped by yet another instance of being brutally rejected by somebody who was supposed to love him but instead sent him back into an adoption system that is undeniably a mess and rife with abuse.

There's no defending this woman, what she's been through has only been tragic for her victim. Perhaps Russian authorities lied, but had the child been biologically her own who's to say chromosomes wouldn't have carried the seeds of a similar betrayal, as they too-often do?

Or suppose the child was a perfect little low-maintenance angel... until he turned 15 or 16, ages at which some of the most severe and debilitating psychiatric disorders begin to manifest; that would have been tragic for all, because that's a terrible thing for a parent to deal with, watching a loved child disintegrate. And we might sympathize with a parent who reaches wit's end, who wants to quit. But this is the tough thing with being a parent, with raising a child, that you might have to deal with such a nightmare. And what was Ms. Hansen going to do then, one wonders? (At least, one supposes, a teenager might be old enough that sending the child on a long plane flight unaccompanied isn't an utter dereliction; why, the child might even actually be old enough to travel alone!)

Parenting is not easy, which is why it's a course most people shouldn't embark on. But once the dice are cast, they don't unroll themselves just because you crapped out when they stopped tumbling. Your child, if you have one--or if you adopt--is yours, this creature you are accountable for and obliged to raise as best you can. Not something to be abandoned when it becomes inconvenient. Not something you can return the unused portion of back to the seller. A person, a young, incomplete person, and you are responsible for the repairs and maintenance, caveat emptor.


Leanright,  Sunday, April 11, 2010 at 2:30:00 PM EDT  

I Love, Love, Love this post Eric.

My wife and I have been married for 17 years next weekend; never thought we'd even want children at one time, and really grew into the idea. Perhaps it was the "next step" in our life, or the fact that all of our friends around us were "littering up" and it just made sense at that point. Then we found out REALLY how badly we wanted kids when we dealt with infertility and all that goes with that. Then miraculously, we were blessed, albeit through artificial means. They are 100% biologically ours, we just didn't get to, you know....the FUN way, but I digress. I always wonder how my girls will react when I answer the "Where do babies come from" question; Me: "When a husband and wife love each other very much, the man grabs a cup and a dirty magazine" get the picture.

We were blessed with twin girls, now 7 years old. We get to raise them to be the better versions of ourselves. It's amazing that as close as they are in age, both are very different in personality. We don't raise them differently from one another, but they obviously are two individuals. Wonderful gifts, which we take full responsibility for. Granted I have my faults (Conservatism is NOT one of them:)) and my wife does too, but WE have a legal, moral, and ethical duty to their wellbeing. I can't imagine a duty I'm more happy to take on.

Any parent, thinking of adoption should go through rigorous training to let people know that all kids are different. You can't return them, or get an exchange or refund. You are responsible whether they are your flesh and blood, or not.

Shame on parents who desert their children because it's not convenient.

Bravo Eric, Bravo.

Jeri Sunday, April 11, 2010 at 7:19:00 PM EDT  

Eric, I continue to admire you and be thankful for your friendship.

This is precisely my perspective - and as you well know, I *live* this story, just one step shy of detention's doors.

Thank you!

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