The happiest juror on the block
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.