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Observer gets a lesson in child rearing

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This Observer, unlike others that lurk around Observer HQ, does not have children. The wisdom of this decision was never more plainly evident than this weekend when we dutifully accompanied our girlfriend to a birthday party, the invitee list of which counted nearly 50 8-year-olds and a contingent of stumbling cupcake-face-stuffing toddlers. The oldest among this ilk contented themselves by tumbling down a giant inflatable water slide, surfacing to bother the adults only when injured or to quench a thirst not yet satisfied by inadvertent gulps of muddy, grass-flecked water pooled at the bottom of the play-thing.

We sat back in a folding lawn chair, sipping a cold bottle of water, delighting in the fact that we were not responsible for breaking up fights, holding soggy T-shirts or applying sunscreen slab-wise across bony shoulders.

It was then that we were enlisted to help watch our girlfriend's niece, one of the aforementioned stumbling almost-2-year old toddlers. From that moment forward our afternoon became not one of sunny leisure, but one of chasing around a small person who could hardly walk and whose hierarchy of needs seemingly consisted of (in this order) sticking foreign objects in her mouth, picking up trash, stealing and playing with people's phones, blurting out unintelligible garble and putting herself in constant danger of banging her head on something sharp. And we were only at it for about an hour.

The whole affair completely wore us out. It also had the unexpected effect of making us look forward to the day when we had someone so cute and precious in our lives that to spend a day wiping, chasing, protecting, feeding, cleaning, wrangling and entertaining would be thought of not as a burden but a pleasure.

Then there comes the day when the danger-seeking 2-year-old turns 20. It was a tough day for this Observer, who never listened to all those people who warned that childhood would be over before we knew it. You may think the days of dogging the toddler to keep her off the ladder, out of the trash, from smearing her banana into the rug and refusing to put on her clothes will never end. But they do, and damned if you don't miss them a little bit.

Last Thursday, the Clinton School of Public Service set up more than 1,100 chairs for a joint program with the Arkansas Times on the West Memphis Three case. Every single one, including the one accommodating your humble Observer, was filled.

It was an informative, educational and civil gathering. All Little Rock attorneys for the three were in attendance and ready to answer questions. The rest of the panel was made up of Arkansas Take Action founder Capi Peck, Times Contributing Editor Mara Leveritt and Jonesboro Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ellington. Here are a few memorable moments:

• Ellington, who signed off on the release deal, walked into a lion's den of WM3 supporters. He defended the deal. He continued to assert his belief in their guilt. But, he said the state crime lab would analyze so-far unidentified DNA evidence to see if it points to a suspect in the case. He encouraged those with evidence to see the defense team and said he'd consider "compelling" evidence. He made a persuasive case (to us, anyway) that the deal was the best way to serve the interests of those who believed in either guilt or innocence of the WM3. He acknowledged this was not the smartest decision if politics was your only objective. In other words, we fear this good man may not run for Congress after all.

• Peck said that Son of Sam Law or no, Damien Echols hopes to write about his life story.

• In a post-panel wind-down at the River Market wine bar, Zin, two possible movie moments were suggested to the Observer. 1) That meeting in Attorney General Dustin McDaniel's office, with 15 or so legal eagles, when the decision was made to move forward on a plea deal and 2) that prison van ride last Thursday, when Misskelley, Baldwin and Echols were together for the first time in 17 years. Misskelley told his lawyer, Jeff Rosenzweig, they talked a little about sports.

• Rosenzweig also relayed a bittersweet moment to the Observer about informing Misskelley's father that his son would be coming home: "For the weekend?" his father asked.

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