My kindergarten teacher was a lovely woman named Mrs. MacEachron; only, none of us six year-olds could quite say that, so we got to call her Mrs. Mac. Mrs. Mac always wore pantsuits in varying hues of green or brown, and had a beehive hairdo which I thought was utterly fascinating. I loved her. She was the one who taught me how to tie my shoes, and I remember how she patiently practiced with me while I tried to tie those laces, the way kindergarten teachers do.
A few years later, when I was about 10, my mom went back to work; so, my younger brother and I went to an afterschool sitter until our mom came to pick us up. About three doors down from our sitter’s house was a family with three kids: two girls, one of whom was a year or so younger than I, the other one several years older than I, and in the middle was Eddie Green, who I thought was the neatest guy in the world. I remember warm, sunny afternoons spent in the Greens’ backyard, all us kids putting a fist into a circle, and Eddie would chant “Engine, Engine Number 9, going down Chicago line” (and the rest of it) to figure out who was going to be “it” when we played tag in their backyard.
Now aside from being what I thought was the best-looking guy I’d ever seen, Eddie Green also had an ability that utterly mesmerized me: he could make a sound JUST like a cat. He would sort of trill his r’s at the beginning of a meow sound and the Greens’ cat would answer him. The cat would actually answer him. I mean, they sounded exactly the same! I was completely impressed. So, of course, I practiced with the determination that only a 10 year-old could have on how to trill my r’s and meow like a cat, and sound just like Eddie did. And I finally got it right. To this day, I sound JUST like a cat when I meow to one, and I trill my r’s at the beginning of my meow sound, just like Eddie Green.
Mrs. Mac. Eddie Green. What’s the connection? They both taught me something which has lasted my entire life, and will last until my last day alive, I’m quite sure. When I’m quickly tying my shoe before heading out, my mind’s eye every so often calls up impressions of Mrs. Mac with her beehive hairdo, kneeling down on one knee in a beige or pine green polyester pant suit, showing me how to take those long, confusing laces and magically turning them into a bow knot – that was an intended lesson, of course. And having a competitive dressage horse, I spend hours upon hours at the barn, five days a week – and where there’s a barn, there are cats. Our barn currently has three cats: Lulu, Chase, and Dilly. I meow to them all when I see them, trilling my r’s like I learned from Eddie Green, sounding so much like a cat that sometimes, my meow is thought to actually be one of the cats’ – now that lesson was unintended.
As a family law attorney, I am profoundly aware that what I do today will impact my client from here on out – and when kids are involved, I feel an even greater, higher degree of responsibility. What happens in a child’s parents’ divorce and custody proceeding will mark that child for life. What I do, whether intentional or not, can have life-long consequences on a young person who will probably never even meet me. That is a colossal responsibility to bear, requiring exceptionally careful thought and consideration.
Everyone I know can tell you about his or her own version of Mrs. Mac: someone well cognizant of the impact she (or he) has on people. Then there are the Eddie Greens of our lives: people who leave an indelible mark without even realizing they’ve done so, or even intending to do so. In every custody case I have, I spend a lot of time thinking about what kind of mark I am leaving on my client’s child’s life, what that child will be like as an adult, and how that child will view the world forty years from now, when I’m probably dead and gone.
I do not have a direct relationship with any of my clients’ kids, but I know with certainty that what I do will stay with them for the rest of their lives. I want those children to grow up and think, “Yeah, my parents divorced when I was like 10. I survived my parents’ divorce okay, and I remember my mom’s/dad’s attorney always asked about how I was doing. I think about that sometimes, and I guess, you know, I guess I’m really doing okay.” The results I work to reach in my career will far outlive me, and whatever mark I leave on the kids in these custody cases, I hope that mark serves them in a meaningful, happy way – the way the marks left by Mrs. Mac and Eddie Green did for me.