At around 2:15 EST today, the mothers of this country let out an audible collective gasp. Casey Anthony, the young mother who loved a good party and whose 2 year old daughter disappeared for several months before her tiny body was found in the woods, dead, had been found not guilty.
Casey isn't that different from a lot of young single mothers. In fact, right before this was announced, I had been writing about how difficult it is to get support as a young mother. When I first became a mom, I was fourteen hundred miles away from my family, starting a new job in a new city with my new husband. We had been married a little over a year when we gained custody of our children. What I remember the most about those days and months early on was how desperately I wanted to do a good job and how hard it was to do it with no support system. I had no friends and only my husband's family to rely on. My children had special needs and needed therapy each week. My husband worked nights, so the majority of the time I was the caregiver of two special needs children.
Talk about stress. And there was no way to relieve it. I do believe now if I had been a mother prior to gaining custody of our children, my life would have been easier, because I would have known I had the skills to be a good mother. Children with emotional disorders are a difficult group to manage. Many times, especially after being told by other people I was doing it wrong, I began to question what I believed to be right. The good news is, the therapy paid off for all of us and we formed our own family with our own values and our own rules. I still question some of my parenting decisions, but most of them I don't view as a life-or-death type of decision, the way I did back then. I have two beautiful, healthy, intelligent children, and consider myself lucky.
Casey Anthony can't claim any of the risk factors that I faced. She had support from her parents. She had friends. She hadn't moved or even had any major life changes. All of the normalcy of her life is what makes this case that much more frightening for parents. We're left, collectively wondering, why?
I have long wanted to have my own biological child. Probably much like adopted children want to know about their birth families, I want to know what my biological child would be like. Would she have my eyes? My personality? My feet? I know it sounds funny, but we've always joked about how our daughter has her birth mother's feet--long and narrow. When she was little, I used to measure her foot with my hand, to her delight. I remember the day she outgrew my hand and how big she thought she was. I wonder if my biological child would be smart and beautiful and all the things that most people wonder. I've wondered that for fifteen years. Tomorrow i will be 42, and it's unlikely that I will ever see that wish fulfilled.
But for whatever reason, God gave a child to Casey Anthony. In this day and age, giving up your baby is an easy thing. You can just drop the kid off at a "safe place"--a firestation, a hospital--and walk away, no questions asked. And when I see a child like Caylee, lost forever, I can't help but wonder why. Why Casey Anthony's arms were full of a baby she cared so little for, and another mother's arms are empty. What a two-year old could do that would enrage a parent enough to kill her. How even if Caylee's death was an accident, Casey could hide it from her own family for fifty one days. Six and a half weeks.
I wonder how many parents watched the news reports yesterday and thought as I did: "I would have gladly taken Caylee." I don't have money to pay for every kid in the world. But if it mean the difference between life and death, how many children would YOU turn away?
I don't have any answers. Children can be frustrating sometimes. Parents need support systems. They need help from their family, friends, and neighbors. It takes a village to support parents and children for healthy relationships. In my case, I developed friendships, had help from a wonderful team of therapists, had a great preschool for the children who supported the children's development. It took time, but I developed a strong support system--so strong that leaving it a year ago to move closer to my parents was one of the hardest things I've ever done.
I don't know that any of us will ever know what really happened that day. Maybe Caylee drowned in the pool due to negligence. Maybe she was killed by her mother. But as a mother myself, I cannot imagine missing one of my children for 51 days, with no idea where s/he was, and I would imagine it's the same if you're a grandmother.
I am a huge proponent of taking precautionary measures instead of having to fix a problem after it happens. As a nation, we need to figure out how to help parents understand the commitment they're making long before they are holding the baby in their arms. Children are most likely to be victims of abuse or neglect in their first year of life. This statistic just makes it that much more important.
We're all familiar with the old adage "You have to get a fishing license to go fishing, but you don't need a parenting license to be a parent." True. But I can't help wondering if Casey had attended parenting classes before Caylee was born, perhaps she would have been better equipped to manage her daughter. Or maybe she would have made a different decision altogether.