“Be a mom. Your job right now is to just be a mom.” My attorney reiterated those words throughout the course of our six-week trial. We were suing our school district for their negligence and lack of disciplinary action for several complaints of a teacher molesting his students and ultimately my daughter.
Usually, this order was followed by, “Let me be the lawyer, trust me to do my job, and quit trying to control the situation. Just be yourself.” I can’t say that I successfully achieved any part of that directive, nor did my attorney realize how contradictory it was to my nature. I was being a mom. To the core. Intuitive, investigative, and hyper-observant to every detail, every reaction, in and out of the courtroom. I was constantly debating the case in my head and trying to solve it from the jurors’ perspective using only the so-called evidence and facts being presented. Feeling powerless didn’t sit well with me. I wanted to protect my child at all costs. I wanted justice; not the kind our judiciary system offers but the dictionary’s definition: the principle that punishment should be proportionate to the offense. Justice that I felt was not achieved during the criminal trial.
You see, I was being the only mom I know how to be: demanding, protective, devoted, serving, loving, and role-modeling. I’ve made some extremely tough choices in my life, taken long uphill journeys, and persevered – when I could have run away or taken a much-needed nap – all for the sake of teaching my daughter to do the right thing no matter how tough it is. But over the six weeks even I began to doubt my certainty that the positive effects would outweigh the negative.
But I was just being myself. I wanted so badly to get up and present my own case. I wanted to look those jurors in their eyes and tell them “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help me God.” I felt strongly that if the real truth was heard, they would surely rule in our favor. How could they not? We had no less than ten witnesses testifying for us, most of the jurors were parents, and some had even been molested themselves. But that is not how our justice system works. Instead, we have to pay attorneys thousands of dollars to stand up and give only pieces of evidence. Not all of it is presented; only what the judge allows. The attorneys take no oath to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. That is for people on the witness stand only. The attorneys can present stuff out of context as much as they want. There I was being asked to stay quiet and listen to the defense attorneys say what I know to be lies, omit and change parts of my own quotes, and mislead the jurors to believe that I am a horrible mom. They accused my child of being “messed up” long before the teacher molested her because she had divorced parents, as if to justify the atrocity. Just being a mom at that point could easily have translated to ripping his head off. Just being a mom also meant feeling guilty for being divorced every single day of my life, which magnified ten-fold after the incident.
My attorney was in no way trying to be condescending to me. He was actually trying to comfort me and alleviate the stress that I was putting on myself every day. My body was in constant fight mode, and I clenched my jaw the entire six weeks, grinding away at my teeth. He could see the mental and physical toll it was taking. He may have feared I might do something stupid that would cause a mistrial, like shout out “LIAR!” in the courtroom. But I felt like the entire case was up to me to win. While my attorneys were doing an excellent job, it was hard for me to believe the jury would see through all the defense’s arguments. Our entire case hinged on a statute of limitations, regardless of how much evidence we provided or the fact that the teacher pleaded guilty to the molestation. It was my word against that of the assistant superintendent. Whoever seemed more convincing to the jurors would seal the fate of our case.
Looking back, I wish I could have relaxed and trusted my attorneys and the process. As moms, we play many different roles. We are the disciplinarian, adventurer, storyteller, play date, taxi, maid, cook, tutor, nurse, protector, provider, comforter and the ultimate source of love. My natural tendency is to be fiercely and unapologetically protective. So when he said, “just be a mom” I said, “I am!”