Monday, August 10, 2009

Necessarily Inconvenienced ... the Life of a Parent

Claudia and I are preparing to take a week's vacation by traveling with friends who share our last name but not our direct genealogy this week. We will travel from our home in south-central Minnesota to Columbus, Ohio, where we will present workshops at the North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC) annual conference. We have attended many of these conferences in the past decade and have found them to be places of support, education and connection. It has become one of our regular routines of summer, and we like it.

Coordinating travel is always a challenge. With the number of children we have, there a multitude of logistical issues to resolve. Where will our kids stay? Which kids can be home together and live in harmony? Which PCA (personal care attendant) will be able to "overnight it" to provide adult supervision? What will they eat ... planning the menus, purchasing the groceries, providing money for milk and basics later in the week. What about laundry? Where are socks for everyone? Is there enough laundry detergent, softener, dishwasher concentrate, dishwashing liquid, cleaning supplies for the week?

It is a tiresome, tedious process which Claudia and I divided between ourselves. This time, however, there have been several of complications that have inconvenienced out always stressful planning process. I have had a couple of professional responsibilities to care for that have crept over into my vacation time this week. Inconvenient, but necessary and care for. We have the extra frustration of replacing a passenger window in our car before we can actually depart on our trip. The window, of course, was broken by a careless thirteen-year-old on Friday night and, of course, the specific glass cannot be shipped to our community until tomorrow morning by 8:00. (We hoped to leave by 9:00, but that may be delayed now). I have been waiting a week or so to have the oil changed in our car so that we could begin our 1600 mile trip with fresh oil. That will have to be squeezed in after the window has been replaced tomorrow morning. I would like the car completely washed and vacuumed before leaving, too, so the stress is compounded.

That is all inconvenient. But the biggest inconvenience of the day is that our son John was released after 88 days in a county jail two hours from our home. The timing was not great, but we had few options. We couldn't see him being released onto the streets, and we were unable to find anyone willing to house him until our return in a few days. (We can't really blame anyone ... who would be open to welcoming someone who has been jailed for legal "criminal sexual conduct" (and no, he has not been assessed as a predator or as a risk to society; it is simply the age-old statutory rape issue with a male who is eighteen and a girlfriend nearly sixteen years of age).

So at 6:00 AM I drove out of our driveway with three of my children (I told the family that anyone who wanted to come could, but they needed to up and ready to leave at 6:00 AM without my getting them up) to pick up our son. We arrived thirty minutes before the scheduled court hearing, but it was late. Ninety minutes after its scheduled time to begin, the hearing commenced.

John was brought into the courtroom in his jail "blues," handcuffed and shackled, with an armed deputy standing immediately behind his chair for the duration of the hearing. Security has been strengthened in this particular court room after an incident sometime ago in which an inmate threw a sandal at the judge.

John's public defender is a champion of his clients, intelligent, articulate and passionate. Since this was not my first time in a court room with one of my children, I am pretty familiar with the protocol and not at all anxious. I have developed a rather hardened shell after all these years of receiving in some cases as much blame from the legal system as my children who have defied my and society's mandates. So, I never really expect much in the courtroom anymore and am prepared to take my legal tongue-lashing for parenting children who are not law abiding.

Today, however, was different. The attorney took time in his eloquent communication to acknowledge the work that Claudia and I have done in "taking in challenging kids and adopting them," as he put it. He commended me publicly for investing time in challenged kids and, in particular, for our willingness to bring John back into our family's life, even after serious legal charges have been levied. I was touched by his sincerity and warmed by his words of affirmation.

The judge was equally as impressive. He spoke in even and courteous -- but direct -- sentences that made it clear to John what would happen if he violates the terms of his probation. In brief fashion, should probation be violated, John will be required to register for life as a sex offender, serve up to fifteen years of probation and perhaps as long of prison sentence. This was not a surprise.

But the judge's next words were. "John, I have read your files, and I can see that you have spent most of your teenage years in legal trouble. I'm assuming that has been difficult for you, but not nearly as difficult as it has been for your parents over these years. You have had many opportunities to make good choices and have not. People have tried in your life, but you have consistently chosen to disregard them. You have the opportunity now, as an adult, to get your life together." He went on to present clearly and fairly what John needs to do.

Again, I was touched to have received even a brief moment of acknowledgment that raising John and children like him has been very, very difficult. Today was an inconvenience, but in the past eight years of John's involvement with the social services and legal systems, Claudia's and my lives have been very difficult. In that time we have learned so much about what we can control and what we cannot control. We are much more at peace with ourselves and our children today, knowing that there is really only so much a parent can do for a kid hell-bent on self-destruction.

Through it all, though, we have learned that unconditional commitment to a child (or young adult, in this case) may be the only thing that ultimately a parent can offer. All the rest is necessary inconvenience.