Friday, November 20, 2009

The Price of Privilege

My friend Lori passed this title on to me, not necessarily something she deemed a "must read," but interesting food for thought. What she appeared mildly enthusiastic about has provided a very interesting and engaging read for me.

I started this book on our beach trip. While I do recommend the book, I would not suggest for the beach. After reading a few pages I realized I needed pen and paper for note taking - a couple of extra items for our beach bag, and something about being hunched over taking notes compromised my even tan. (When on sand, stick to fiction.) Not a chapter would go by without needing to jot down some important idea or concept, which later of course became fodder for discussions with Corbin.

I don't know much about the author, Madeline Levine, Ph.D., but she writes with wisdom. She also happens to come across as academic and intelligent, but the wisdom of her words draw me in. I found myself wishing Dr. Levine was my next door neighbor, someone I could share a cup of coffee with from time to time and pick her brain for my current crop of parenting issues. Someone who might listen sympathetically and yet offer objective feedback to the way I handle situations with my growing kids. Fortunately, I do have these "neighbors" in my life, in the form of parents and friends, and much of Levine's advice and observations seem to coincide with much their trusted advice.

This book, born out of thirty years as a professional child psychologist in Southern CA, encapsulates Levine's observations and instructions and warnings for today's families. Her writing is both sympathetic and comforting, while at the same time she gives her readers a kick in the rear to get it together and parent wisely. Obviously, the book is geared toward privileged families - which nearly any one of you reading this blog fit into. But filter out all the privilege part, and it's just plain good parenting advice.

If you read this book, just a head's up that the psychology jargon included is more lengthy than many traditional parenting books. The text reflects a psychologist-author, so she defends her studies with full explanations of the psychology behind them, and gives brief definitions of psychology terms throughout in order to fully communicate her ideas. Personally, this non-medical reader appreciated the brief introduction into child psychology 101. But be prepared to skim a couple of sections if you're not into that.

The three things I loved most about reading Dr. Levine's book:
1 - She provides a fantastic platform for discussion concerning modern-day parenting. It took me a long time to read this book because I found myself wanting to chew on the information a little at a time, and I loved talking with Corbin through the main points.
2 - Levine's voice of reason goes against the negative patterns of our culture. Reading through her ideas and instructions and examples, I found myself wondering how many enemies Levine might have made through the process of writing and publishing this book. She is brave and courageous to inscribe in ink her not-so-politically-correct opinions. Whether I agree with every single thing or not, her courage is admirable.
3 - I'm realizing how much my parents and Corbin's parents did right. Psychology lingo aside, our parents emulated nearly all of Levine's instruction. The points Levine makes for healthy parenting (ideas such as delayed gratification, the real definition of success, the dangers of materialism) are familiar and for the most part come naturally for Corbin and me, having seen these concepts modeled in our own home for years. Something we can't thank our parents enough for.

Well, I may not get to be next-door neighbors with this neat lady, but I'm grateful for her words to get me thinking. A great read - be prepared to be challenged.

Monday, November 9, 2009


“Hey, how long ago did you get this ticket?” Corbin asked, flipping through some papers on my desk.
“Oh yeah, I meant to ask you about that. What do I need to do with it?”
“Well, did you read it? Looks like you need to go to the courthouse. But it says within eleven days, and the date on this is Oct 19.”
“Agh! So today is day 12. Think that’ll matter?”
“I don’t know.”
“Think it’ll matter that I still don’t have a new driver’s license?”
“I don’t know.”
“Come on, you’re the attorney here. You really don’t know?”
“I really don’t know. But you need to go tomorrow.”

I was hoping Corbin could do something about my ticket - call someone or take it somewhere and make it just disappear. A couple of weeks ago I answered my cell phone driving through a school zone. Big no-no. The officer was merciful to fore go the automatic $200 fine, but instead issued me a ticket for an expired registration sticker. No kidding, the new sticker was paid for, sitting on my desk at home, waiting to be affixed to my front window.

So last Monday morning, citation and renewed registration in hand, I walked up the courthouse steps in hopes of getting my ticket dismissed. With $1.50 in the parking meter and the kids at lunch with Corbin I figured I’d bought myself an hour or so to take care of this annoying inconvenience.

Despite the crisp, sunny weather outside, the building’s dark, dank ambiance mirrored my spirits. After walking through a metal detector and waiting in line for the teller, I was summoned to courtroom five. Whoa. Turning the corner into the hallway, I joined the ranks of a mass of legal offenders. Searching for a kind face of someone who might speak English, I asked a lady where the line started and who I should give my paperwork to. She shrugged her shoulders and told me that the clerk would be by to get my papers at some point. I pricked my ears for any information and overheard comments like “three-hour-wait” and “been here since 9:30.” I couldn't make sense of the process and instead leaned against the tile wall and waited.

As my watch ticked by minutes. I contemplated how I would get back to add more change in my meter, and how Corbin would do with miniature shadows at work the rest of the afternoon. Was it worth the wait? How much would this ticket cost, anyway? Would this “process” devour more of my time with a driver’s safety course?

Glancing through the tiny rectangular window of an adjoining courtroom I saw my friend Kim, sitting as Judge on the bench, issuing verdicts to those who stood before her. Kim! If only she would look up and see me - maybe I’d be saved! But she never looked my way, and I was unfortunately assigned to the next court. I (barely) restrained myself from doing cartwheels and waving my arms frantically to get her attention.

At some point the clerk gathered my papers, and before too long I was summoned from waiting in the hallway to waiting in the actual courtroom. I felt the weight of disapproving onlookers as I left the throngs of listless hallway dwellers and entered the courtroom.
Following the clerk’s gestures to a bench, I sardined myself between two seated men, turned off my phone, crossed my arms, and waited. As a man pleaded with the Judge to revoke his warrant for arrest, to no avail, the young man on my right told me he’d been sitting there for two hours and had to catch a bus to Texarkana. The man on my left told me I should just leave and come again at 7:00 am the next day, as the courts open at 8:00. Another man in front of us asked the clerk if his name had been called, as he’d stepped out to use the restroom, and she part-laughed and part-huffed as she told him, “No chance.”

As person after person stood in front of the judge, arguing their tickets and violations, I dreaded my name being called. I was pretty sure I was the only blonde in the room, and quite sure the only one wearing a hot pink blazer. What was I thinking?! I stood out like a sore thumb, and I didn’t like it one bit. I slumped on the hard wooden bench, wondering what I would be asked and how the judge would respond to my delayed appearance. Beyond the inconvenience of throwing away these precious hours, I felt guilty. Guilty knowing that my real charge was worse than what I was actually charged with, guilty that I’d let too much time pass before taking care of this ticket, and guilty crammed among fifty or sixty others in the same position.

All of the sudden, the judge called out my name.
“Tonya Wilson?”
I kind of half-stood, not sure what to do, as I knew my name was no where near the top of her pile.
“Tonya Wilson - your ticket is dismissed, you may leave.”
A room full of strangers stared holes through me. I was one of the last to enter the room, and now one of the first to be leaving. I heard sighs from those across the aisle - not happy ones.
“That’s it? I don’t need to do anything else?”
“No,” the Judge said, “you’re free to go.”

So out I walked. Out into the crammed hallway, through the dim teller area, and down the marble courthouse steps. I squinted my eyes in the bright noon-time sun.

Free. Liberated. I was released, with no real explanation. I could have cried right there standing on the bustling sidewalk among lunch-hour suits. What just happened?

An unexplained pardon. It was such a picture to me of my debts being wiped clean - an undeserved gift. My entire wait was about half an hour, and I didn’t even have to go before the judge. My ticket was completely dismissed in mere minutes, while others waited hours. I was free to go. A humbling, startling picture that will go with me as I continue to appreciate the ultimate, real, eternal Grace.

Footnote: My friend Kim later explained that I was likely released because of the nature of my ticket - just one, and I’d given the clerk proof of my registration that had already been paid for. She never saw me through the window.