I know the first time I heard the Latin phrase in loco parentis was sometime in my early days of working for a small law firm in Port Angeles. The law is one of the few arenas where Latin is still tossed around willy nilly. Amicus curiae (friend of the court), de novo (anew), duces tecum (bring with you), ex post facto (after the fact), habeas corpus (have the body) and lis pendens (suit pending) are still in common daily usage where I work. In the beginning, I was constantly asking the meaning of Latin terms. Now, if I don’t know them already, I can often puzzle out their meaning from the Latin I do know.
In loco parentis means in place of the parents and is often used in describing the role of school in a child’s life. This week, however, it was the phrase that popped into my head when we were asked to stand as godparents to two children who are very dear to us. My husband and I have not been blessed with children and we have left that in the hands of the Almighty. I have found that I cannot write about the subject easily and so have left it on the shelf to simmer until now.
As I looked down at the two sweet faces that had no idea what we were discussing with their parents, I was first and foremost filled with the thought that I hoped the guardianship would never be necessary. Believe me, John and I will be praying with all our might for the health and well-being of their parents to ripe old age. The second thought that moved my husband and me both nearly to tears was the humbling amount of trust and love that was being bestowed on us.
I turned 37 two months after we married. We allowed ourselves some time to settle into marriage and talked at length about children both before and after we married. We decided that we would try to have children but that we would take no extraordinary measures to do so. After a time, it was clear that it wasn’t what God had for us and we quietly put that dream away. That being said, I don’t know if you will find two people that value and honor what it means to be a parent more than we do.
I think especially after we knew that we would not have children of our own, I began to look around at those in my circle of family and friends that are parents. I will say that I cannot think of a single one of them that doesn’t realize what a tremendous amount of work it takes to be a good father or mother. I would also say, that without exception, I think they are doing fantastic jobs raising the ones to whom they have been entrusted. I know there must often be days when infanticide seems a real possibility after a difficult time with a child but I also know that they see how greatly the blessings outweigh the problems. I think they also realize what a brief span of time they will have with their children before they are grown up and flying the nest.
In my line of work at the Court, I regularly review cases that involve the physical or sexual molestation of a child. As much as humanly possible, since it is not my job to do so, I avoid the facts of the cases because I found early on that the disturbed me to such an extent that I could think of little else. If anything will turn you into a vigilante, it is child abuse cases.
Recently as I was setting aside several briefs that had been returned from the printer, I realized that attached to the copy of one was series of color photographs. The first one caught my eye because it was a picture of a cell phone text message. As I turned to the next one, there was a photograph of a little girl of about two years old. She had big brown eyes and soft curly hair the color of honey. As I continued to flip through the photographs, I went on to find a series of photos taken at the hospital of her little body which had been horribly abused. There are some things that cannot be unseen.
I will not bore you with overmuch with what had to be done next. The photos were an exhibit in the case that had been provided as a courtesy by the prosecutor’s office and should not have been attached to the brief nor added to the printed copies. Another co-worker and I quickly rectified the situation for the case manager that had made the mistake since she was out of the office. Both of us spent the rest of the day feeling quite ill over the photos. The little girl survived her abuse and her abuser, if there is any justice in the universe, will never be outside a jail ever again. He does not have a very good basis for an appeal from which I take a good deal of comfort. I also take comfort that child abusers do not fare very well in our prisons. My last source of relief is my belief that someday in the future, that man will stand before God and answer to Him for what happened.
Why am I telling you this? Confession is good for the soul. Also, I want the parents of all the children John and I stand as guardians for to know that both of us would give our very lives to keep their little ones safe should that ever be necessary. If you have children of your own or children that are dear to you, give them an extra cuddle after you read this. Not all children are as fortunate as yours.