Tuesday, January 13, 2009
So, Why Did You Call Me?
Historically, I get about 100 cases a year. I really tried to cut back, last year and ended up with 93. If I had 55, I’d be perfectly content. I’ve torn between worrying that I am going out of business and hoping I will.
Since the first of the year, I’ve gotten twelve. TWELVE new cases. Between that and two nasty, heartbreaking trials, I’ve hardly come up for air. I’m scrambling to return calls, visit kids, review documents and draft court documents.
Because I concentrate on guardian ad litem work, I tend to get tough cases. People who do it as a side line usually get the more mundane ones. So what the means is that when I get what appears to be a nice, garden variety case (based on the paper work) it is usually a mistake to assume that if I don’t hear from someone, all is well. While I am shuffling it around on my desk thinking I have plenty of time to get to it, chances are, someone is stalking someone else; someone is in the local nervous hospital under observation; a daughter is engaging in self injury; a parent is installing locks to try to cut down on incest between siblings; or a son is being transported across state lines in violation of a court order. Or something like that. When I read about all these horrible domestic dispute murders that have been taking place when people are killing babies, for the love of god, I worry. When did people start killing babies? That never seemed to happen until the past few years.
Because of that, I have learned to dig to find out why I have been assigned a particular case. In the initial phone call, I generally tell a parent that the courts usually have a reason for appointing a guardian ad litem but that I don’t know what that reason is. Sometimes (I tell them), the child may have a mental illness or a substance abuse problem or problems with their family or something like that. Then we brainstorm all the reasons why the court may have decided to appoint me. It is like a treasure hunt.
Even after that intro, I can’t tell you how many times I have been on the phone for 45 minutes before the parent shares the information (frequently only after I start asking very specific close ended questions) that the child has been admitted to a psychiatric hospital several times. Or was abused. Or hasn't been seen for several days.
You’d think that would be the first thing you mention. Wouldn’t you? I suspect that for some parents, they are still trying to deny that their lives are in such a mess. For others, I honestly think they’ve reached a point where such things are so normal that they don’t even think to mention it. For some parents, it isn’t really a question of “reaching a point,” so much as this sort of thing has always been just…normal. Bless their hearts. For some, I think their lives have gone in such a bad direction that it is like a novel. Maybe they want to tell me the story from the beginning or with prior explanations before they get to the final chapter so that it makes sense to me.
Another thing that strikes me as ...interesting... is that I get grown men and women who try to justify affairs that are truly outstanding in the level of deceit and betrayal. They do their level best to convince me that they were justified because, essentially, their spouse didn’t understand them.
My standard response is to laugh out loud and tell them, “Boundaries, friend, all I need to know is that you are modeling appropriate boundaries for your kids.”
They still want to convince me that they were “wrong but justified.” “Not my business,” I tell them, but they still want approval/forgiveness/redemption. Of course, I’m not the one to provide that. But they want it. For many, I am one of the first people that they feel like they are “supposed” to confess their affair (ignoring that I am usually trying to sidestep the nitty gritty details). If they press for a comment regarding how it will effect their kids, I generally tell them that they have set up their kids for heart ache. “I know, I know,” they tell me sadly.
I will have an e-mail from them within two hours, again attempting to “explain” why they had no real choice in the situation and it is primarily the other parent’s fault. Count on it.
Right now, I’ve got a child sitting in detention who is facing 25 years in jail because she is charged with helping her gang member boyfriend stab a member of a rival gang. Apparently, it is a miracle the victim is still breathing. It took 30 minutes before the mother mentioned it. Before that, in our joint quest to figure out why the judge assigned me, she concentrated on the fact that her daughter missed a lot of school. No, I am not kidding. I’ll be heading for the jail first thing in the morning.
But all the same, it is good to be back to work.