The optimism of young parents comes to this

From Thursday's Globe and Mail

They bought their house the same year their daughter was born, in that magnificent expression of brimming optimism common to young parents everywhere: We will be happy here. We will last. Our dear girl will thrive.

And there they were yesterday, in court, 16 years of pouring everything they had into both bricks-and-mortar and flesh-and-blood come to this terrible truth: At least the house is a sure thing.

The parents looked frightened, aghast, ashamed. They looked everything their daughter, blank and bland in that unformed teenage manner, did not. They were weary proof that the most famous lines from Philip Larkin's bitter poem This Be The Verse - "They fuck you up, your mum and dad, They may not mean to, but they do" - work in reverse too and sometimes as harshly.

The teenager, along with her boyfriend, is accused of first-degree murder in the New Year's Day stabbing death of 14-year-old Stephanie Rengel; Toronto police allege that though she wasn't present, the girl was directing the plan.

Neither the girl nor the boyfriend, who since their arrests have respectively turned 16 and 18, can be identified under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

She was appearing - a pale, passive presence in the prisoner's box - at a bail hearing before Mr. Justice David McCombs of Ontario Superior Court yesterday. At least twice, she was brought into and out of the courtroom, and not once did she seem to acknowledge, or even look toward, the several rows of relatives, spanning three generations from her grandmother to her little brother, who were there in her support and who were watching her - clearly hoping to catch her eye - intently.

As Crown attorney Robin Flumerfelt read into the record a brief synopsis, none of which is reportable under the standard publication ban, the parents were outside the courtroom for reasons that also can't be reported.

When they entered, separately, what was striking was their own youth and a decency that was frankly palpable.

The mother is well-spoken, articulate, nice. The father spoke with less confidence, seemed stricken into shyness.

Without violating the publication ban, all that can be said publicly is that they were vigilant, careful, responsible parents whose children knew rules and boundaries as well as care and love.

With little foundation, lawyers often characterize the most egregious crimes as mere "tragedies," their young clients as victims who were "turning their lives around," their parents as upstanding people.

It is often a crock: Some of these kids have no one who ever shows up in court for them, no one even to bring them fresh clothes but the lawyer, no one who cares beyond the hired hand. The ostensibly fine families are as often as not a miasma of dysfunction and worse.

The girl's lawyer, Marshall Sack, said as much outside court yesterday. But there is an air of reality to his characterizations. The language may have been cheapened by the constant repeating of the typical refrain, but there is nothing cheap about these people. Someone asked him how the girl's birthday in custody had gone.

"It was horrific," Mr. Sack said, adding quickly, "I know the parents of the victim would say, 'At least she had a birthday,' and I understand that." He understands well there is a chasm of difference between these two girls, that one is in the grave and that the other allegedly helped put her there. But here, this one time, the difference seems not in the quality of the parents, but in the fact that if you want a sure return on your investment, emotional or otherwise, the house is the safer bet.

Judge McCombs will release his decision next week.