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The sounds were coming from the backyard: the melodious, rich laughter of two children, occasionally yelling and screeching in excitement like squirrels fighting over a freshly cracked pine cone. Mixed in with the gaiety were sounds of sharp creaks of an aged trampoline as the two tumbled about playfully and bounced their weightless selves toward the sky. One was a young boy, who had a goofy grin and a noticeable crinkle around his eyes, and the other was a young girl, who had a set of small, beautiful blinking crystal eyes and untamable straw-colored hair that would simply not lay flat. This was eight-year-old Mandy and her little brother Carson, who were siblings that belonged to the Gambles next door.
We first met the Gambles last year when we first moved to Mountain View. In the eyes of an outsider, they seemed to operate like a typical family-the kids being taken to do sports on weekdays, the parents cooking dinner as the kids watch TV together, the family visiting relatives on weekends, and the such. However, I came to learn that despite the veneer their amily was not ordinary. The parents had very unique jobs. Kristine, Mandy’s mother, was an ex-firefighter but currently worked as a coroner and Jason, Mandy’s father, was a brave and reliable police cop. To be honest, our family felt some sort of security living next to them. But as time passed and I saw them more and more frequently, I could not help but start thinking. For a family with a parent working in law enforcement, had to be …different. There had to be things beneath the surface. How were they, a “police family”, any different than ours?
With a quick dial of 911, we expect someone to immediately respond to our emergency, EMTs to come and whisk away things our loved ones to a hospital, and composed police officers to bring order and peace. We expect these people to serve us and act professionally, collected, and capable. There are over three-quarters of a million police officers in the US today (Anderson). It seems difficult enough to maintain a family with the usual pressures a career in law enforcement has, including long hours, shift work, and emotional stresses. Children of police officers don’t have it much easier. As they grow older, often some follow one of two paths: an unhappy development with a restrained obedience to their cop parent or simply a full-on rebellion to that parent (Anderson). Through talking and understanding a child of a police home, I find have developed better understanding of how the Gambles make it all work this point in time.
Here are some things about Mandy. She is entering third grade at Stevenson Elementary school, located just a block away from their house. She weighs fifty-eight pounds and is four-foot five inches tall, which is very tall for an eight-year old. When she lines up next to her classmates, her blond head sticks up above the rest, and their heads form a line like a line on the electrocardiogram. Her tangled blond hair always frames her square, reddish, face and her clear blue eyes reflect the light. She has long arms and legs, which benefit her during soccer practice, and her piccolo-like voice is always mixe d with a bit of laughter. Mandy’s goal in life is to, “accomplish what I need to accomplish”, which at this time in life is to complete homework in time in order to have time to play on the trampoline with her brother, read the adventures of Judy Moody on her dad’s Kindle, or watch anything on TV that doesn’t have swear words. One Saturday morning in the blinding morning sunshine, I had the opportunity to observe Mandy’s soccer team, the Red Stars, face off against Blue Bats at a nearby elementary school. After forty long minutes of cheering and swearing from parents and shouting from both coaches, the referee blew his whistle to signal the end. Unfortunately, the Red Stars lost. This was their third consecutive loss of the season, making it now impossible to compete for the league title. Their coach leaned down, put his arms around the gathered girls, and gave some encouraging words before dismissing them. Mandy’s slender legs swiftly walked towards the parents and her red uniform glistened in the light. No words were spoken. “That’s the way sports are. You don’t win all the time. But no matter what, Mandy will have a smile on her face” said Jason. True to Jason’s words, once she got in the car with a teammate, her face brightened and she returned to her talkative and optimistic self. Being on a sports team taught her the importance of teamwork and support. But more importantly, it taught her the pain of losing, the fact that it just happens, and that there’s no point in dwelling in it.
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And forget about physics. Physicists, in attempting to calculate the mass of the universe, are quite determined to prove that “nothing” must really be something, since they can’t find enough “something” to add up to what they consider to be everything. Confusing? Ir-
Though still very young, Mandy has an unmatched maturity. In addition, she knows more than the average eight year old. She knows Santa isn’t real. She knows magic doesn’t exist. She knows that the world is not a kind place. She knows deaths and suicides occur frequently-even just in the bay area. She knows because of what her parents have shared with her. This doesn’t mean that Jason and Kristine aren’t careful about what they share. They believe that their kids have a right to know what they do, and they share when asked. “I think as they grow older, they can get more specifics with anything with my job, but at the same time, we don’t want to overload them with all the terrible awful things that can go on in the world,” comments Kristine.
Jason and Kristine have made other agreements too, like arranging their work schedules so that is one of them always with the kids to raise them. Because with the sort of job Jason does, it is important it is to anticipate, accommodate, or perhaps eve n appreciate the inevitability of change (Kirschman 175). Jason works Friday, Saturday, and Sunday while Kristine works Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Kristine says, “You definitely have to coordinate the comings and goings of each other because both of us is susceptible of being called in of overtime shifts you really have no control over you need to definitely plan for somebody who’s able to watch your kids in the middle of the night if you both get called to go somewhere or something... And you know, I have to be okay that he’s gone Friday, Saturday, Sunday nights and we don’t have weekends together like a normal family does.” Still, over the years, they’ve found discovered many hidden benefits. Shift work has allowed the both of them to spend a lot more time with the kids compared to many their friends who work from 9-5 pm. In addition, since they have weekday time off, they can to take Mandy and Carson to places, like hike trails or amusement parks, when they’re not as crowded as compared to the weekends.
A week earlier, I had met up with Mandy in her room. Still dressed in her warm, stretchy pajamas, Mandy was sitting on a short stool waiting for me to interview her. The light streamed through the translucent butterfly stickers that decorated the windows onto her pale face. Piles of bright clothing covered the ground. Her lips curved into a smile upon seeing me and we began talking. Children of cops, especially teens, are caught between feelings of loyalty and pride in their parent’s work and anxieties about peer rejection because of common peer attitudes toward authority figures. This is also a general problem for children of parents in any way of the helping of service professions, the dilemma of the “cop’s kid” or “preacher’s kid” (Miller 271). However currently, Mandy feels solely pride in her father’s work. “He protects the city,” she says. Does she feel any pressure? “No. not really, I just feel like everyone else.”
Perhaps she feels this way now because she is so young, because her world is so simple compared to the world of adults. Kristine says, “Right now though, everybody thinks that their dad is totally awesome because he’s a policeman. He’s been to their classes and they “ou” and “aw” at him and you know, hopefully they don’t suffer too much in high school because of what we do... But for now, he’ll remain a hero.”
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tion from their peers, their parents are more concerned about their rejection of them. “It seems like, with people that we know that have older kids, will either stay on the straightened arrow or they have this sort of extreme rebellion to their dad or mom being a cop, and they just go down the absolute worst path possible. And a lot of it, very much-thumbing their nose at their mom and dad being a law.” Mandy, who sat by my side during my conversation with Kristine covered her face and giggled. I could not tell if she understood her mother’s words.
Afterwards, Mandy and Carson pulled me outside where we climbed clumsily onto the trampoline. It was still early in the morning so the sun started to peek between trees. We proceeded to play a game called “Corn Kernel”. Carson sat in the middle while Mandy and I began jumping, higher and higher until the whole neighborhood was in view. Carson’s small form began to bounce up too. We looked around us. A blue Jeep backed up. A squirrel stole a plum. An elderly watered his tomatoes. A dog peed on a chopped tree trunk. A group of teenagers strolled down the sidewalk. A shirt slipped off a hanger. A block away, a jogging woman pushed a stroller. The black mesh canvas pushed our feet up into the air over and over, and generously sucked up the sun’s growing warmth.
bsence of anything. Not a thing. What could be simpler and more straightforward? Actually, it’s pretty complicated. Nothing is seldom really nothing.