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Serving Jury Duty – Why I chose my kids over adult interaction

Confessions of a SAHM

By Michal Lemberger |

I tried to do my civic duty. Really, I did. I may be the only adult American to say this, but I actually wanted to do jury duty.

It’s not that I’m more civic minded than most. I just want to get away from my kids.

I love my children. I consider myself lucky to have them in my life. At their best, they are funny and curious, loving and affectionate. All the clich’s are true: they really do open my eyes to the world in new ways. Their innocence and enthusiasm are infectious. I have never loved anyone as fiercely.

But after five years of diapers, cyclone tantrums, Dora the Explorer, and unpredictable food preferences, I need a break. When my older daughter was still a baby, I read some advice in a parenting magazine. It suggested that I get a comfortable armchair and set it up facing a wall. Once a day, I was told, I should make myself a cup of tea – herbal, of course – and sit in my chair for 20 minutes, my back to the noise and chaos. This, I was advised, would be a way to find serenity, to claim some time for myself.

To which I thought, that’s it? Make a quick trip to Pottery Barn and invest in a teapot, and I won’t feel like I need to run away screaming every so often? I don’t need tea. All those other sure-fire fixes that get thrown in parents’ faces don’t do much for me, either. I don’t want a day at a spa. (Okay, I do want a day at a spa, but it’s not going to cure what ails me.) A nightly glass of chardonnay can only get me so far.

What I want is to be surrounded by grown-ups. To stop adjudicating disputes over whose turn it is to get the Sleeping Beauty doll, at least for a little while. I want to deal with adult problems for a change.

Besides, courthouses and judicial districts are fascinating places to hang out. They are where cities come together. If you’re as naturally curious (read: nosy) as I am, they can be goldmines of people-watching. People from every sector of society roam the halls and sidewalks, from the fancy lawyers in $3,000 suits, to the harassed-looking families waiting for their hour in front of a judge, to the guy riding the escalator who seemed to have blacked the large patches between what is left of his hair with shoe polish.

It wasn’t long ago that I dreaded getting called for jury duty as much as everyone else. We hear others complain about how annoying the process is long before we’re even eligible to serve. By the time that first summons arrives, we are primed to hate it. I first served years ago, when I still lived in New York. I spent a week in lower Manhattan. During lunch, I roamed the crowded streets, but for the other seven hours, I sat in just-bearable chairs and read. I was questioned for a few juries, but never picked. It all felt so pointless.

Now that I am at the beck-and-call of small, intemperate despots, I’ve had a change of heart. Getting a week to sit in a room and read sounds amazing. A week to try out a new restaurant for lunch every day – where mac n’ cheese isn’t even on the menu – sounds delightful. A full week to observe people outside my normal orbit of school-home office-Trader Joe’s seems positively revelatory.

Jury duty, it turns out, is a way to take a guilt-free escape from my children. Unlike my daily life, courthouse existence is orderly. I don’t have to repeat myself ten times to get anything done. My opinion actually counts for something. One word from me, and someone’s fate gets decided.

I never did get to serve. And it’s all my children’s fault.

When my summons date arrived, I called in every night to find out if I had to report in the morning. Monday, no. Tuesday, no. Wednesday, no. Thursday … yes. I set my alarm for 5:45am and made my way to Downtown LA, only to realize that if I ended up serving all seven days, I would miss my daughter’s preschool Mother’s Day celebration. She had been talking about the party for weeks, her excitement growing as the day grew nearer.

Here I was, ready and willing to sit in judgment of my fellow Americans, and family responsibilities got in my way. In the end, my daughter’s emotional wellbeing outweighed whether I heeded the call of my county on that particular day. I postponed.

It was only once I set the new date that I realized things wouldn’t go so smoothly. There was still the small matter of picking my children up from school. I couldn’t very well ask a three- and five-year-old to get themselves home at 3 pm because I was too tied up serving the cause of justice.

So, two months later, I set my alarm for 5:45 again and drove back downtown. With a sigh about what might have been, I gave up my dreams of jury service and took my place in line to be excused. After a blink-and-you-missed-it interview with a clerk, I was free to go, released from service, and any hope of behaving like a grown-up, for the next twelve months. I left the building, got in my car, and drove home to my real life.

When it comes down to it, I am always going to put my children first, no matter how much I crave intellectual stimulation, or even just some time off for good behavior. Preschool Mother’s Day celebrations may not seem like earth-shaking events, but they are important to my daughter. On days like that, I will make sure that I am sitting in that scaled-down chair, listening to the songs she practiced so intently. I will let her teach me the mother-child dance she learned. I will show my appreciation for the breakfast she and her classmates prepared. Because she is my primary duty. Justice will have to wait.

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About Michal Lemberger

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Michal Lemberger

Michal Lemberger is a poet and writer living in Los Angeles. She and her husband are raising two girls, ages 3 and 5. She can be found eating cold mac

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25 thoughts on “Serving Jury Duty – Why I chose my kids over adult interaction

  1. Olivia says:

    i love this essay. i’ve been lucky enough to not serve on jury duty, but i think when the time comes i’ll bring a good book! or crossword puzzles :)

  2. lucky says:

    I see a cruise in your future :) ..

  3. Gwyn says:

    I just want to say I love your point that all these little “spa days” or “10 minutes with tea” ideas don’t really solve the mom dilemna that parenting is rewarding and challenging, but not very much intellectually stimulating (after all, I have already been all these ages and mastered these skills. I know my colors, shapes, and letters, have already built lego towers and played with dolls. I love seeing my children do it, but all day every day gets tedious.)

  4. Kolmomma says:

    Love this! I am now dreaming about being called for jury duty or taking a really long flight by myself!

  5. Michal Lemberger says:

    Oh yes, solo flights are the best. I’ve done that exactly twice (going and coming) and enjoyed myself immensely. Even going through security felt like a breeze.

  6. Faith says:

    This was great…only thing I would add is that working moms appreciate quiet time too. All that “adult interaction” is great for awhile, but after a time you have your work kids AND your family kids…not to mention all the housework that doesn’t get done. I would LOVE to get jury duty just to have the time to sit and have no obligation to do anything for a few hours! Oh to be bored!!!!

  7. NotAMom says:

    In my county, if you are the primary caregiver of any child under 5 you are excused from jury duty.

  8. Lawyer Mama says:

    I sort of have a different perspective on this topic since I am trial attorney. When friends of mine lament having to report for jury duty, I remind them that it is a civic duty, not an “optional” civic duty and, if possible, to seriously try and serve if you are able to cobble together childcare. We (as in “we the people”) lose so many great jurors who are too busy or important to serve and it hurts everyone, especially in criminal cases. I love how everyone is ready to burn Casey Anthony at the stake, but couldn’t possibly take time away from a preschool celebration to serve as a juror. It may be you or a loved one someday who needs a jury of her peers – wouldn’t you want someone like you on the that jury? Just saying.

  9. Kiki says:

    It really doesn’t sound like most of you have ever been on jury duty. If you need a break from your children, get a babysitter and take a break. Sitting on a jury is serious business and, at least in my experience, anything but relaxing or fun. Someone’s future is at stake, it isn’t a vacation day.

  10. Kelly says:

    This is really annoying, and I agree with Kiki. Get a babysitter if you need a break. I keep getting called over and over again for jury duty despite letting them know multiple times that I am the primary caregiver of my infant daughter. I’m currently waiting a response on whether I have to show up Tuesday morning and if I do, it unfortunately will be with my baby in tow in the middle of the winter because as I’ve told them before I DON’T HAVE ANYONE TO WATCH HER! So yeah, I don’t get the point of this article. But that’s the case with most content on Babble lately… Too bad.

  11. mamaesq says:

    Another way to put your children first is to be an example of an involved, responsible, conscientious participant in our democratic systems. Just saying.

  12. kick me hard says:

    “Jury duty, it turns out, is a way to take a guilt-free escape from my children.” i find this stmt annoying. why do you allow yourself to feel guilty for taking some time for yourself. ifyou spend 7days/24 hours catering to your kids. What is wrong with taking a few hours to yourself. Why can’t you take a one hour daily break away from your kids when your husband/significant other comes home without feeling guilty.

  13. 4boys says:

    Great, honest post. To “kick me hard”, guilt is a normal part of being a parent. We feel guilty because our overwhelming love for our children trumps our very real need to be alone and when we put ourselves first, we tend to feel like a bad parent. I am not saying that guilt is reasonable, it is completely irrational but also totally normal given the society in which we are raising our children.

  14. kick me hard says:

    @4boys, i know the guilt. I found a way for me to have time for myself and found a way not to feel guilty about it. For example, after my son goes to sleep its MEEEE time. this way i don’t need to find an event that i can’t say “No” to in order to feel like an adult.

  15. mccn says:

    I think maybe the author is saying, not that serving on a jury itself is a veg-out experience – I trust that she’d listen carefully and be seriously responsible as a juror, if called – but that waiting to see if you’re called is! Maybe the language is confusing to some commenters who see jury duty as the former, rather than the latter, but although I stress how important civic duty is, and encourage all to take jury service seriously, I don’t see a problem with saying – the waiting part can be kind of relaxing, and there’s no service to be done when you’re waiting to be called!

  16. Sarah says:

    mccn: the problem is that sometimes, you end up having to serve on a jury. Sometimes without a real wait period. I did, and it was decidedly neither relaxing, nor fun. As previous commenters have indicated, if you need a break from your kids, get a babysitter and take a break. But don’t equate jury duty to a vacation – there are those of us out there that have actually had to serve on a jury and know better.

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  18. MeToo says:

    I was recently called for jury duty (which I have gladly served in the past in my pre-kids days), and my real problem with it is that I don’t have anyone else to keep my kids! I am their only childcare provider. Where am I supposed to magically summon up another caregiver? Not every SAHM is in my position, but I am – and I noticed this author NEVER SAYS what she did with her kids during her jury duty. Is this not a critical element of the story?? My husband took a vacation day for me to go to the first day of duty, and I just begged both judges I saw to dismiss me for hardship reasons. The first (a woman) immediately did. The second (a man) did too but felt the need to lecture me first about my civic duty. Had I been put on a jury for a week, my husband would’ve needed to take 5 days of vacation time off right before Christmas – if he was even allowed to. Or else we would’ve had to pay a stranger (who?) to watch our 2 and 4 year old. If my husband gets jury duty, his employer would pay him for the days he was out. If I get jury duty, we have to pay someone else to do my job. I feel that’s my state basically telling me the work I do has no value to society and I have nothing better to do with my time. Would I enjoy the “break” of having jury duty? Heck yeah! But it’s totally impossible for me. Call me back in three years when they’re in school.

  19. jeez says:

    i wish i were lucky enough to be able to stay home and raise kids and complain about needing to get away from them via jury duty. think this mom needs to get a once-a-week babysitter and get over herself. i never see my kid enough and right now i hate my job; i’d trade lives with her any day.

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  21. Anonymous says:

    I can so relate. I’ve always felt the same way about jury duty and getting away from my kids. Only you say it better – and publicly.

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  23. Megtaylor says:

    Oh, sweet mercy , YESSSS!!! This article says it all. Though I have two daughters ages 1 and 3, and it’s my lunches I eat standing over the sink. All the same, really. I’ll sit for four hours at the mechanic’s if I can do it alone!!!

  24. Megtaylor says:

    In response to other commenters, sometimes ANY change of pace will feel like a break when you’re a stay-at-home parent–even work. The lack of mental stimulation and adult interaction can be very hard on at-home parents. I’m a SAHM because my husband and I felt it was important, and while I truly value it, it’s extremely hard to be home alone all day without the intellectual rigor and social interaction a job can provide. A working parent has a tremendous burden to carry (like being everything to everyone–my mom did it, and was a single mom at that for several years). But a SAHM has a different, yet often equally difficult burden: that of isolation and the mundane realities of day-in day-out child and home care. With one income, it’s hard to afford a babysitter,and with a working spouse who himself has had a long day, it’s hard to ask for time off for myself. A little understanding goes a long way. And I think this blog was supposed to be tongue-in-cheek anyway.

  25. Jayne says:

    You had a judge excuse you from jury duty for a pre-school party? Good lord, that’s outrageous. As an attorney and mother myself, I’m embarrassed for you both. Way to set a good example for your kids.

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