11 October 2017

An open letter to Jane Doe

Dear Jane,

As I write this, you are 12 years old and have already been a witness in criminal court. You reported that you had been touched by a family member in a way that made you uncomfortable. I heard your words, and I saw your face as you took the stand. You are just 12 - on the cusp of womanhood yet still a child. I don't know you personally, and I could not speak to you, but I see that you are full of life, filled with curiosity about the world around you. You are energetic and articulate.

I heard everything you said, and I watched the interviews you had given to the police. I heard your words and some of your heart. I want you to know that I believe you. I believe you were the victim of a crime. I believe you were made to feel uncomfortable. I believe it happened more than once. I believe you.

But we failed you. I don't know why, but the others didn't think your word was good enough. They didn't believe as I do. They had reasonable doubt. I can't explain it; I wasn't there. But I wanted to say I'm sorry. I'm sorry we let you down. You were brave enough to come forward about experiences that must have been awkward and embarrassing. You did the right thing in telling adults you trusted, and then in talking to the police and detectives. You did the right thing, and I'm proud of you.

I'm sorry, Jane. I fear that this experience may have a huge impact on your life. It will change how you and your family relate to each other. It may change how you relate to adults you used to trust. It may change your view of police, of lawyers. It may change your view of men. It may have disillusioned you about the pursuit of truth and justice in our community and our country - as it has disillusioned me. This experience will change you in ways we don't yet know or understand.

My heart goes out to you. I ache for your pain, for your confusion, for your tainted childhood. Your story is familiar, but yours is the first I have heard in person. You are a smart, sweet young lady with a bright future. And I will remember you always. At the same time, you now stand - in my mind - for so many others in similar circumstances. When I hear other stories of children and young adults whose abusers go free, I will see your face.

I am sorry. You have been wronged. While I must accept the lawful acquittal of your abuser, I will remember. Always. And I will cling to the hope that you will grow to be a woman of great strength and wisdom - a woman of honesty and integrity - despite this experience. Remember the words from Moana*:
"I know your name.
They have stolen the heart from inside you,
But this does not define you.
This is not who you are.
Yon know who you are."
Remember who you are, Jane.

I remain respectfully yours,
The silent juror

*Shurer, O. (Producer), Clements, R., & Musker, J. (Directors). (2016). Moana [Motion picture]. United States of America: Walt Disney Studios.

11 September 2017

I remember

I remember waking up, panicky about the situation in Jos that week - riots in my hometown.
I remember going to the computer to check my email, finding nothing.
I remember going to BBC.com to try to look at world news (required for a class) and being frustrated that the page wouldn't load.
I remember trying another site and seeing a headline about a plane crash.
I remember exiting the browser without even thinking about the plane crash.
I remember racing to class, distraught and frustrated, and taking my seat with others my age who probably had also just woken up and raced to class.
I don't remember the instructor's telling us what had happened in New York, but I think he must have.
I remember someone - the department secretary, maybe? I didn't know her - coming across the hall to our classroom to tell us that a second plane had crashed into the other tower.
I remember the instructor's turning on the TV, watching the towers fall, feeling that awful, heavy rock in the pit of my stomach.
I remember classes being canceled for the morning and a special prayer service being called.
I remember sitting in chapel with Allison and just holding onto each other.
I remember Allison wept, and I was silent.
I don't remember having the energy to grieve for all of those people who lost their lives, for their families.
I remember Allison was wearing her Wonder Woman shirt.
I remember being terrified not only for my parents but also for friends I knew in New York.
I don't remember being afraid for myself, because I wasn't.
I remember Ruth's saying, "If we go to war, I'm going to join the Army."

I remember American flags everywhere I turned.
I remember "God Bless America" always reverberating in my ears.
I remember learning the story of Wheaton alumnus Todd Beamer, who participated in the heroic destruction of United 93.

I remember being repulsed by the wave of nationalism that suddenly overtook the country.
I remember people starting to openly hate anyone who looked even remotely Arab or Middle Eastern.
I remember "United We Stand" meant the country stood united against not only terrorism but foreigners.
I remember feeling less American than I had ever felt.

I remember.

09 March 2017

Pinewood derby fail

Let me just begin by saying that we are part of an absolutely amazing Cub Scout pack. It's new, and it has had to overcome many challenges. The leadership is outstanding, the boys are fun, and the parents are very helpful. This post is not in any way intended to impugn the quality or effort of any of the folks involved. We love Cub Scouts and are so glad to be part of the pack!!

I discovered recently that pinewood derbies are really popular. This probably seems like non-news to most of you, but as the mom of young kids (and a single mom, to boot), I wasn’t aware of the popularity of this event. But pinewood derby is a Big Deal.

And it can be a lot of fun. I mean, what little kid doesn’t love a race? Especially when his or her own creation is competing for a prize? It’s adrenaline, it’s speed, it’s rapturous.

But I’m going to be a wet blanket and say I don’t like it. Designing is fun. Creating is fun. Decorating is fun. And even racing is fun. I’m not denying any of that. But can we all just agree to admit that it’s not about how much time and work the child puts into the car but about the time and work the parent puts in? At least up until a certain age, the average kid is going to make an average car. Only when the parent steps in to make suggestions, buy accessories, and soup it up will a car actually have a chance of winning.

I admit I didn’t want to be involved in the pinewood derby from the very beginning. I felt overwhelmed, and the way things came together, I felt as though I was just expected to know what to do: where to get the wood, how to saw it, how to add wheels, what paints to use, how to get it a certain weight, how to make it fast. When I tried to talk to other moms around me, they had all done it before and just talked to me as though I was either stupid or crazy for not having a clue. It was weird because these same women were usually friendly and kind, but they obviously just couldn’t fathom my complete ignorance of this activity. It was this condescension—unintended though I know it was—that first gave me a bitter taste in my mouth. I’m not stupid. I’m an intelligent person, have a college degree, have assisted in surgery, and have only not gone on to grad school because I have no interest. I understand the basic laws of physics as much as the next layperson.

But I’ve never worked with my hands, and I know absolutely nothing about speed, aerodynamics, or wood. I have never in my memory used a saw, especially a power saw. I have sanded wood maybe once or twice. I have never painted wood that I recall. And when people say “weights,” I think of dumbbells. I was told to watch YouTube videos, which is all well and fine, but some people don’t learn well from watching videos.

To be fair, our leader planned a few building sessions to help not only my son but also other kids complete their projects. She was magnanimous and helpful. But when you’ve got that many kids and that little time, everything can’t possibly get done. This year I sat entirely in the backseat, only watching while my son picked a design, got the wood cut, sanded it, and borrowed paints to make it pretty. I watched while someone else’s dad put the wheels on and critiqued the car. Someone else did all the work.

But here’s the thing: my son couldn’t have done any of it without another grown-up. (In his case, it took three of four.) People had to pitch in because I was taking the backseat. And they’re busy people who had their own kids’ cars to worry about. The most they could  do is make sure my kid had a car. They couldn’t be bothered about its design or its racing potential. While I’m super grateful to them for making sure my son had a car, I also understand that he can never win unless he has one adult who gives his or her all to make it happen.

The kids who actually won their races (at least in the younger grades) all had huge parent/guardian participation. That’s just the truth. And they had all raced before, so their parents had experience as well. So the competition was really about how great the parents/guardians were rather than about how much work the kids put in. This just doesn’t seem right to me.

Granted, they don’t compete for money, and each car wins some type of prize. That is completely awesome, and I love that. But as far as the actual race goes, I don’t like it. I don’t think it makes sense. What makes sense is the kids making their own vehicles—or group vehicles—completely by themselves and using all the same materials and components. Or not having a race at all, just a fun building experience with maybe a contest for creative design—but all building done together. That way it would be about what the kids are doing rather than what the parents are or aren’t doing.

So unless all work on the cars is done together as a group, with each kid getting equal help and the same suggestions from leaders, I don’t think we’re going to participate in the pinewood derby. My son needs to know that he is not less just because his mom can’t make a race car. He needs affirmation, and if he competes, I want him to compete on his and only his skill.