A car ride with Brennan

It's raining outside, and Brennan and I are making our way home. After work, I always pick up my daughter from school. Brennan asked just one question when she got into the car today, which is more than on many days: "How was court today, Mom?"

"Fine," I responded. It is the job of a judge to deal with problems, so court is not always fine, I thought.

I was fairly young nine years ago when the governor appointed me to the Supreme Court of Georgia. I had two very young children at the time. My son, Addison, always a quiet, studious boy, graduates from high school in May and is on his way to either Yale or the University of Virginia later this year. I also have Brennan, three years younger than Addison and only 6 at the time of my appointment. Brennan had to be carried into the State Capitol for my swearing-in, lest she cut loose and act the fool the way unrestrained 6-year-olds can do.

Brennan is now in middle school, and I am well into middle age. Riding home together at the end of every day, Brennan and I rarely say much. I'm usually lost in an old Beatles tune (her rap music is off limits in my car; it makes me crazy) or in my thoughts about a case.

Brennan usually appears lost in her own thoughts as well. She is 14, and I have no idea what she is thinking. I'm not even sure I want to know.

I look at Brennan peering out the window. She is a warm, passionate little creature who lights up any room she enters. She is also beautiful with a big smile - only enhanced by the braces on her lower teeth - that can penetrate my heart in an instant. Of course, Brennan doesn't know how wonderful she is yet. I sometimes wonder if I was ever that pretty. I wonder if my sheer existence in the world ever pleased my mother as much. I think it probably did.

My "baby" Brennan has been my more "difficult" child. She prefers a good party to good grades. And she is still as willful and disruptive as the day she helped hold the Bible for me at my swearing-in. She is the child who nurses unseen wounds, the one who hurts deeply when her friends move or fade away, the one who always wishes she was somebody or somewhere else. But she always stays close. She always needs you there.

It has sometimes been frustrating being the mother of Brennan. I just didn't expect her to be so different from me. She is her own person, and I'm constantly discovering or in search of who that person is. On more than a few of our rides home, I have told her tales with transparent morals and gratuitously dispensed advice, hoping she will finally "get it." I have read every parenting guide I can get my hands on. I have spent hours on the telephone seeking advice from Brennan's teachers, our friends, and members of the family regarding the care and feeding of this girl. But I still seem to come up short. There have been a few times when I have wanted to give up and move out. (She can have both the house and the car; just let me be.)

In my saner moments, however, I know that I have gained a lot from my experience as mother to this amazing act of God that is my daughter.

As a member of the state's highest court, I have had to run exhausting statewide campaigns for reelection many times, and I have learned to work closely with six other justices, whose job it is to have deep disagreements with me. (This tension is how the law evolves.) I routinely make difficult legal judgments in a time when anything goes and being "judgmental" is a sin, and I regularly bear my share of the burden of public scorn for the politically unpopular decisions this court has to make. In spite of the professional struggles, I still have no illusions.

It is in my role as mother that I am discovering strength, wisdom, and patience I wasn't sure I had, and confidence that I can handle life even when things get shaky. It is because of Brennan that I am learning to accept difference, irritation, and even anguish as part and parcel of life and family love. Brennan is teaching me much about the power of endurance and the importance of having someone in your life whose life is more important than your own.

A car ride in the rain with Brennan. Happiness is the sum total of all of the fleeting little moments like this one, recognized as significant when they appear, and added up. I have had so many such moments with Brennan, and I am grateful for them.

Leah Ward Sears is a justice on the Supreme Court in Georgia.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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