Thursday, April 24, 2003

Laci Peterson

Terrible anguish of parents


A new father passed me in the corridor at work. How does it feel? I asked. An ordinarily articulate man, he paused and stammered helplessly. "It's, uh," he said finally, "kind of incredible." It is, Dave.

That's the thing nobody tells you. Not really. You get advice about saving money for their education. The mother-to-be is warned about vitamins and caffeine and alcohol. Lamaze instructors tell you about breathing and relaxation. By the way, you may as well get your relaxing done during childbirth. You will never fully relax again. You will worry about crib bumper safety and childproofing your cupboards and electrical outlets. You will worry about their teeth and their nutrition. You will worry about germs and bullies. You will worry whether you have been too strict. Not strict enough.

There are terrible parents, of course. People who hurt and abandon their kids.

But most of us know the other kind. The people who pick up their newborn, carefully supporting her neck. And sometimes putting them in front of the TV with SpongeBob SquarePants instead of reading Goodnight Moon to them. Making mistakes. Doing the best we can.

Blind faith

Nobody prepares you for the lifetime commitment. The bond. How they change you. Saying we love them doesn't cover it. We love our spouse. And our own parents. But this feeling we have for our children, as Dave might say, is kind of incredible.

It is possible that some parents see their children with crystal clarity. This has not been my experience. My own mother, despite compelling evidence to the contrary, thinks I'm beautiful and brilliant. And perfect.

A half-dozen years ago, I talked with a woman whose son had kidnapped a 3-year-old child. The woman talked about her son's kindness to the child "while he was in his care." She was quite sincere. When John Salvi, who murdered two receptionists at abortion clinics, was sentenced, cameras scanning the courtroom caught two anguished faces. One was that of his mother. The other belonged to the mother of one of the women he killed. O.J. Simpson's mother and Ron Goldman's father were courtroom fixtures. There for their children.

Some people are better at being parents than others. More skillful, better prepared. It doesn't always mean they wind up with better kids. Most of us have seen wonderful parents with terrible children. And vice versa.

Now, Laci Peterson's parents are in court. Scott Peterson's parents sat across the room, listening Monday to charges that their son murdered his pregnant wife, Laci, and unborn son, Conner. Laci's mother, Sharon Rocha, and Scott's mother, Jackie Peterson, wept throughout the brief court proceeding.

The Rocha family's pain is unimaginable. We can't bear to imagine what they are feeling. Not for an instant. It's too awful. It's a parent's - and a grandparent's - worst nightmare.

But it would be a grudging heart that does not reserve some sympathy for the parents on the other side of the room.

E-mail or phone 768-8393.

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