More than fifteen years ago I worked in the Minnesota District Court sytem as a volunteer Guardian Ad Litem. While I was being trained as a GAL I was taught that the role was to serve as the "eyes and ears" of the child to the judge in child protection cases. In the two years I did that work I worked mostly in disputed custody situations, interviewing parents and their family members and then making a recommendation to the court as to custody dispositions. Occasionally I had a case that dealt with child maltreatment or neglect. It was a difficult, stressful kind of job that I enjoyed only because I felt I was doing something that mattered in the lives of children. I did not realize how well it would prepare for being a parent of troubled kids, although not in the way I would have expected.
I was reminded of this chapter in my life while recently reviewing our son Mike's paperwork for his most current (not since his most recent release from jail, in case you're wondering ... he seems to have remained law abiding for the past two weeks) charges. He will be in court tomorrow morning (I have agreed to transport him to this county courthouse, which is about 35 minutes from us) with a judge I worked with as a GAL years ago. I have no illusions that the judge will remember who I am at all, but I when I saw the judge's signature on the order in Mike's charges, I had to chuckle to myself at the irony of it all.
Fifteen years ago, had I been a GAL in a juvenile case involving Mike (which, prior to his reaching majority this past March, we have been for the past three or four years), I would have made the assumption that Mike's problems were home-based. If I had been appointed GAL for him at that point in my life, I would have scrutinized the parents, come to a conclusion that they were harsh or strict or unyielding, and identified his "chaotic" homelife as the reason for his misbehaviors. I would have found a way to castigate his parents and their choice to adopt ten special needs children as being primary contributors to his lack of success. I would have considered it their family system issues; I would not have spent much time thinking about Mike's early abuse and neglect or about the family system issues he brought with him into his family at the time of adoption. At the time in my life I was an ardent supporter of the "nurture" theory that any child given the right care and supervision would thrive, and, conversely, any child who did not thrive must not have the right kind of nurture.
In short, I would have been my own worst enemy as a GAL, and I would have been easily manipulated by Mike's charm and ability along the way. I am embarrassed today to think of how ignorant and naive I was, even though I was trying to do a noble and important work on the behalf of children.
If I see the judge in question tomorrow (and it's unlikely, since he is actually chambered in a different county ... it's kind of a Minnesota district court idiosyncracy), I'm not sure what I will think. But I know I will have to keep myself from smiling at how ironic it is. Fifteen years ago I would have been a GAL in his courtroom, testifying against myself. And today I am the parent of an adult child who will receive the consequences of his behavior, a parent who fifteen years ago I would have shamed and blamed for his child's behavior.