Friday, July 23, 2010

Excuse Me

Taking the time to write this post causes me guilt.
Not taking the time to write this post would cause me guilt.
When stuck between a rock and a hard place, I write.

I faced a similar conundrum today. After two days of being part of a jury selection process, and two days of child care DRAMA that resulted in missing ABA for the Rooster both days, I found myself in the final minutes of court. It was after 4. The natives were restless. The prosecutor and defense attorney accepted the jury, and I had not been among the 12, though I was among those in the box. The 7-business-day trial would be able to start on Monday once an alternate was in place. The judge met counsel for a fast side bar, came back, announced juror 31 could be the alternate and we could all go home. As juror 31, I'd been dreading a moment such as this, and finally piped up in an 11th hour like I was in a movie or something. "Wait! Your honor, may I say something? I already explained this in the jury room and they told me to tell it to you should the need arise. My son is six and he has autism. The state provides him with therapy he needs. It's called ABA. And I have to be there to be part of it. If I am on jury duty, he will not be able to have his therapy, and he needs it."

The judge called the attornies to sidebar again. He returned, gruffly said, "Juror 31 is excused." I paused, so he said it more firmly again. "You are EXCUSED, juror 31."

All day I'd been imagining being excused. I imagined trying to resist smiling, trying to look serious as I exited. I'd watched others leave celebrating and considered that tacky and disrespectful. Instead, I slowly drooped out of the courtroom.

Not taking the time to do jury duty made me feel guilty.
Taking the time to do jury duty would have made me feel guilty.

I didn't expect to feel deflated by being excused. Quickly I did a gut check: I didn't like the idea I was "playing the autism card." Everything I said was true, but should autism get me something other people want? Or get me out of something other people don't want to do?

Mostly I felt confused.

Why did I cry in the courthouse alcove? Was it just this guilt? Was I ashamed? Embarrassed? Why did it make me so sad that in our group of about 20 people, another woman leaned over to me and said, "My son is ten and he also has autism." Why did it make me so emotional that another potential juror being excused as well grabbed me and hugged me in the badge-scanning line?

Why did I need to call my husband from the parking garage to unload it all to him before I could manage to drive? Why did my husband tell me he felt a similar feeling, to a lesser degree, when he did the exact same thing in a courtroom a few months ago?

We don't particularly WANT to do jury duty, but at the same time we wish we didn't have a free pass for such a challenging reason. It's hard to lay bare our issues in a forum like a courtroom. It's hard to say that we can't keep up with some responsibilities that others can because our plates are too full.

I told the nice stranger who hugged me that my boy is doing okay, he just needs the structure and support of his therapies. I didn't want her to think we were facing bigger challenges than we are; I didn't want to exaggerate, and I wanted to let her know I am proud of my son. "He's going to be okay," I said.

"I am sure he already IS okay," she told me. "He has a mother who works hard to take care of him. He is your boy. He is okay. He is okay." Another woman had appeared quietly from nowhere. "Things can always be worse," she said. "Everyone has challenges. They come at different times for everyone. Don't feel bad."

I couldn't keep my eyes dry.

I have more questions than answers about why my day made me so emotional. The important things, though, that I take away are these:

Maybe I shouldn't have taken the time from my homework to write this muddled post, but I feel better now that I did.
Maybe I shouldn't have escaped my civic obligation to maintain the Rooster's support programs, but now that I've reflected on it, I know that I'm glad I did.

I hope one day doing jury duty will be no big deal for our family.
I like to imagine Rooster serving one day, too.


Stimey said...

It sounds like you really did the right thing. And evidently you did it while surrounded by the best of humanity. It's so lovely that all those strangers held out a hand.

There are so many reasons people are unable to serve on a jury. Yours is truly legitimate and not playing the autism card.

Niksmom said...

Hugs. BIG hugs.

kim mccafferty said...

You need to do what you need to do for your kids first, and hopefully, someday, you'll be able to put that aside a bit for other things. Good for you, and good for those other people who recognized the situation for what it is, and respected your decision to be open about it.

gretchen said...

I don't know if you were reading my blog during the time I was on jury duty? Here's a link to the pertinent entry:

I couldn't hang. I loved jury duty but it took too much. Which is unfortunate because how can one expect a jury of one's peers if the only people able to serve are those with no children and understanding employers?

Maybe I should have spoken up from the beginning. I didn't want to feel like I was playing the "mommy card" or "autism card". But I ended up bailing out on everyone eventually, so maybe I should have been realistic from the start.

You did the right thing. And I hope you get another shot at a better time, because I thought jury duty was really cool.