Becoming a parent provides us with many opportunities to stand up for our children, and there comes a time when we have to decide how far we are willing to go to stand up for them. Do we stand up for them while interacting with teachers, other parents, and siblings? Do we pick them up with each scrape of a knee? When do we allow them to learn their balance and life's lessons?
Ethan Kline-Walton, my son, showed his life's lessons were shining through early on. Like in Kindergarten when he stood up to other students for the girl with Cerebral Palsy. "She's not retarded," he said emphatically at the age of 5 and a half.
Then there was the time he stood in the void between his mother, younger sisters, then 8 and 5, and a stalking father. Ethan's protective, giving nature shined through beginning at a young age; he was 10. It did not stop there.
I remember encouraging Ethan to play hard and play through his commitment during the 2002 Tehachapi AYSO and Inline Hockey seasons after my 10-year-old said, "I don't like that they hit so hard." He realized he needed to finish what he started and was a better person for it.
I still smile at the coach's comments, from Ethan's Urbana High School football team, in Urbana, Ohio: "He really shows his team spirit. He's at every practice and game, even on those crutches." You see, a broken knee didn't even keep Ethan down or away from the team effort.
There were other times, too.
"Mom, I drove the group home last night, wanted to let you know, 'cuz they drank too much and it was unsafe for them to drive," my unlicensed 17-year-old teen told me one Sunday morning as we headed off to church together, proud that he did the right thing.
It wasn't much longer that his last gift to others was denied. Ethan was murdered in Prague, Okla. on Sept. 8, 2010, but he didn't stop being that giving boy he had spent his 19 years, 110 days being. But now he needed my help again.
As the three-year anniversary of Ethan's death comes and goes I know that I was meant to push hard and stand up for my son's last wishes -- to give to others. You see, becoming evidence in a murder made it so Ethan's last wishes -- being an organ donor -- could not be honored, but standing up for others does not end when you die. Not when DNA is collected.
The DNA collected at the murder scene linked Ethan's murderer to a multitude of crimes. And as the District Attorney, Richard Smotherman, asked if I would be willing to give up for the death penalty if we could help solve cold cases of kidnapping, rapes and murders, I knew I had to think of the bigger picture. I had to make sure that Ethan could, in fact, give to others even after his death.
The decision was quickly made. I gave permission for an extension of time on the case which allowed the officials to do their best to solve cold cases and bring closure to other families. Some cases have now been closed after 22 years and others are in the works.
On Aug. 15, I once again stood up for my son, Ethan J.D. Kline-Walton, in a court, in front of a judge and a serial perpetrator. I explained in detail what was taken from Ethan and our family three years ago.
Sometimes folks say that five life sentences and enough charges to equal a sixth life sentence was not enough, but the murderer received an additional 25 years for a rape that occurred in Wisconsin more than 22 years ago. Ethan's legacy now includes helping others, even past the grave.
At the end of the day, on this third year anniversary, I know I would do it again: from carrying my beauty for nine months, giving birth to him on May 21, 1991, to the September 2010 funeral and speaking at the sentencing on Aug. 15. I stood up then to remind everyone present that Ethan was someone who mattered, beloved and missed while helping bring closure to my would-be daughter-in-law, our Kline-Walton family and strangers in Wisconsin.
As the grieving process continues I know that Ethan can be proud.
Being honorable. Standing up for others. These are a wonderful legacy any parent can be proud of. I am honored to have been able to stand up for Ethan one more time and right some wrongs.
KATHLEEN KLINE lives in Tehachapi.