The hap­pi­est ju­ror on the block

Maryland Independent - - Classified - Twit­ter: @right­meg

Few words strike fear in the hearts of adults quite like "jury duty.” I’ll ad­mit to be­ing fas­ci­nated by the ju­di­cial process, so . . . I’m not com­pletely in that group. Still, learn­ing you have jury duty — by of­fi­cial sum­mons, of course — is an up­set to your rou­tine. Tak­ing time off work. Fig­ur­ing out child care. Won- de­r­ing how and when you’ll get your mid­day snacks and sec­ond lunch in. And so on.

I’ve been called for jury duty three times. Once I was re­quired to come in for a few hours be- fore my fel­low ju­rors and I were dis­missed by mid-morn­ing. The sec­ond time, I was never called to the court­house at all (and was dis­ap­pointed, ac­tu­ally). But the third? Well.

It’s been years since a sum­mons ar­rived in the mail, but my let­ter came in Jan­uary. At al­most eight months preg­nant, I didn’t ex­actly greet this news with joy — es­pe­cially con­sid- er­ing I had my first child two months early, and it seemed like an added com­pli­ca­tion at an al­ready com­pli­cated time. Still, we must do our civic duty; I filled out the ques­tion­naire, added the week to my cal­en­dar and waited. And then I for­got. On a re­cent Sun­day, it was fi- nally time. I’d been re­mind­ing my­self to call the jury line that even­ing to learn if I needed to re­port the next day, but . . . well, you know. Between er­rands and gro­ceries and chas­ing the kiddo around, the day just got away from me. I went to bed. I never called.

Jury duty was still lodged in my sub­con­scious, though — and thank good­ness. When my hus­band’s alarm went off at 5 a.m., my eyes popped open and my heart be­gan to race. I fum­bled for my phone, hit­ting the hot­line num­ber I’d pro­grammed in. And, of course, my ju­ror num­ber was up. Show­time.

I hadn’t pre­pared at all, of course. Mon­day is a dead­line day at work. I’d writ­ten no col- umn, pre­pared no lunches or snacks for Oliver and me, hadn’t con­sid­ered what I would wear (or, more ac­cu­rately, what would still fit) for a day in court. I didn’t let my boss know I’d be out be­cause I didn’t know my­self.

So I wrote a col­umn in record time, typ­ing rapid-fire in my dark kitchen be­fore Oliver woke and wrecked my al­ready ra­zor-thin time­frame to get stuff done. I had to re­port to court by 8:30 a.m. — just af­ter our nor­mal day­care drop-off — and have my story filed by then. I made it, but just barely. By the time I fig­ured out where to go and checked in at the court­house, I was sweaty and anx­ious. The adren­a­line rush pro­pel­ling me out of bed at 5 a.m. was wear­ing off and I hadn’t had time for cof­fee. I joined dozens of other blearyeyed adults in a jury wait­ing room — the court’s pur­ga­tory, if you will — and took a seat.

That’s when I be­came the hap­pi­est po­ten­tial ju­ror on the block.

Cell phones aren’t per­mit­ted in the court­room. It was fine to use them in the ju­rors’ hold­ing area (when we weren’t be­fore a judge), but I was wor­ried I would for­get to turn mine off and face the wrath of . . . some- one, so I just pow­ered it down.

Not si­lenced. Not “on vi­brate.” But off.

I sent one last text mes­sage to Spencer, feel­ing like an as­tro­naut pre­par­ing to leave her cozy ship for the in­fi­nite black- ness of outer space. “Sign­ing off,” I tapped out. “See you on the other side.”

I wrote re­cently about my de- sire to un­plug more. Jury duty pro­vided the per­fect op­portu- nity. To be truly un­avail­able — to col­leagues; to fam­ily; to the as­sault of daily sales emails; to the news and Face­book — was . . . well, it was a relief, re­ally. A break.

On my way out the door that morn­ing, I’d re­mem­bered to grab a pa­per­back I hadn’t touched in weeks. I’ve al­ways been an avid reader, but par­ent­hood has drained my abil­ity to con­cen­trate on any­thing for more than 30 sec­onds. I blame my con­stant “Where’s Oliver?!” ques­tion­ing — the need to scan for my fast-mov­ing tod­dler. I must stay sharp, and that puts me on edge. Even when I’m alone on, say, a lunch break, I haven’t been ab­sorbed in sto­ries the way I once was.

But that Mon­day, I read. I read for an hour. I read for nearly two hours, wait­ing to learn if our group would be fer­ried down to a court­room or sent home. I’d been gob­bling up bits and pieces of “Hap­pier at Home” by Gretchen Ru­bin, a self-help book/mem­oir; it chron­i­cles the au­thor’s at­tempts to make sub­tle shifts in her rou­tines to make her­self — and her fam­ily — hap­pier. I sud­denly felt like I could change, too.

To my sur­prise, I wasn’t alone with my un­plugged read­ing. The young woman next to me was scan­ning a book on be­com­ing a writer (I know be­cause I peeked); oth­ers were pag­ing through mag­a­zines and sta­pled print-outs, text­books and pa­per­backs. Even when we could still use our phones, we were choos­ing not to. And it felt good. I wasn’t ul­ti­mately se­lected for a jury; many of us were dis­missed af­ter a long day of ques­tion­ing. But I read and of­ten sat qui­etly enough with just my thoughts that I emerged feel­ing . . . mel­low. Ac­tu­ally bummed to turn my phone back on, watch­ing as it buzzed to life with all the mes­sages and no­ti­fi­ca­tions I’d missed. Al­most sad to leave.

Not sad to be back on my own re­stroom and snack sched­ule, though.

You can only ask so much of a preg­nant woman.

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