I was part of a movement of "dinosaur moms" when I lived in Maryland (Astrodon Johnstoni is the Maryland state dinosaur.) Which is nothing more than this -- dinosaur moms delight in the half-feral nature of the beasties they parent, even as they whisper Shakespeare and Kierkegaard in their ears at night.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A good deed punished

I went with a neighbor to a naturalization interview today. This was a favor, as we are moms together. Her girl is in my scout troop. Girl has slept over at her house. Jones has gone to her daycare. I often sit with her at PTA and community meetings. I know her and her husband to be block-watching, whistle-blowing, field-trip-attending, cookie-baking, carpool-driving parents of the highest order.

There was an embarrasing moment when she had to answer questions about a "hit" that came up when the FBI ran her prints. Seems she was a foster parent and her ward presented with a broken bone. When she brought the child in she was questioned as a routine matter but exonerated and charges were presumably brought against the perpetrator.

The computer print-out merely says that she was released. You have to have the actual court records to see that she was exonerated and that in fact she is the one who reported the problem. There was a scramble through all the papers, but we did have the court records, so it didn't hold her up.

The interview went well and she burst into grateful tears. When she apologized for blubbering, the officer demurred. No, she said, it is gratifying to see someone take citizenship so seriously. So many people take it for granted.

I always find these scenes of gratitude a little bit uncomfortable. Because often the person has had to tolerate a lot of indifference and bureaucracy to get to this point, and the humility just emphasizes that power differential.

I was still dwelling on the FBI "hit". Why is the burden on her? How begrudging, how indifferent, how bureaucratic was the investigating officer not to simply make a note in her computer file that she is the good guy here? She is the person whose impulse to mother, to volunteer, to speak up, to advocate for a child brought the abuse out in the open and the perverse result is that she gets stuck with a "child endangerment" label for the rest of her life?

It makes me think back to all of the times that as an involved mother I have had to agree to a background check -- volunteering at the school, as a girl scout leader, as a camp chaperone. I fully support the background checks, of course, but how awful would it be to have to explain the alarming note on my file every single time?

My hope for her, as for many of my naturalization clients, now that they are citizens, is that they prove their American-ness by getting a little more uppity.

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