If you're not a parent, just take my word for all this. If you are one, you know well, you instinctively imagine your baby, your child, your teen in every news report involving one.
And so it happened that day in February in bond court.
People freshly charged with a crime, facing a judge for the first time, are typically stoic or scared, sometimes bewildered, sometimes all-too-familiar with the process.
And then came Penelope.
The smiley, wide-eyed, baby-faced wisp of a girl stroking her bottle-red hair is one month older than my daughter. For someone charged with a drug crime, she sure was chatty with the judge. And her swagger was almost kind of sweet until she stopped smiling and dropped the F-bomb on the judge, complete with the single-digit salute.
My colleagues' reactions ranged from amused to disgust. And mine? How did a sweet little girl become this? How does she think such ballsy disrespect is ok? Who didn't discuss life with her enough? Hug her enough?
When you're muddling through parenthood trying to raise wise, respectful, deep-thinking little people, you are up against a steady backflow of much more entertaining celebrities behaving badly and becoming famous for it. And at 19, famous is good. Going viral is big time, with much more of a pay-off than paying attention to a parent's life-lesson. And Penelope sure did go viral. I wonder if she likes that, or is mortified by it.
What fascinates me even more than Penelope's behavior is the backlash against the Judge who called her on it. He took some heat on the blogs for holding her in contempt, for essentially giving her the kind of consequence that she probably never faced. Really? Has rude become so common that we not only allow it, we defend it?
I still follow Penelope's progress through the court system - both as a reporter and as a mother. Once you're both, you are always inextricably both. She is doing very well in a drug court program. During monthly status hearings in court, she is sweet, humble and respectful. One day, maybe I will tell her that she provided one of those "teachable moments" for my daughters. One day, maybe I will give her a hug.