They moved the end table from beside the couch and placed it at the base of the stairs. It was draped in a blanket and a metal bowl was set upside down on top of it next to a wooden spoon that served as a gavel. Clara, wrapped in a purple bathroom, banged on the bowl and called the court to session.

On trial this evening was a penitent young man with light brown curls crowning his worried face. He wrung his hands together and glanced back and forth between the judge in the purple robe and his lawyer, a fair-haired young woman who was currently attempting to stand on her head on the opposite side of the room.

“Johnny McJohnieson!” the judge said with another bang of the gavel for effect. The boy slunk forward. “You are accused of stealing children from their mothers!”

The boy looked stricken. This was a serious accusation.

“Did you do it?”

The boy looked over his shoulder at his lawyer for advice, but she was currently folded into a ball and trying to roll under a table. He looked back at the judge and responded with a shrug. “Me not know.”

“Well, you did do it. And that was very bad.”

Johnny McJohnieson gulped. He was in serious trouble now. There was no hope for mercy. It was prison for Johnny for sure. His days of stealing children were over.

But then a miracle happened. While he stammered to come up with a coherent reply, his lawyer finally crawled out from under the table across the room and skipped to his defense. “Your honor,” she bowed low with a sweep of her arms, like a jester, head upside down, winking quickly back at her client. “Johnny McJohnieson is innocent.”

The judge narrowed her eyes.

“You see,” the young lawyer continued with a flourish, “Johnny only stole the children from their mothers so their mothers could clean the house without them there!”

There was a collective gasp and then the courtroom suddenly fell silent. In just one sentence the young lawyer had transformed the defendant from a tyrannical baby-stealer to a heroic mommy rescuer.

The judge sat frozen for a long moment and then set down her wooden spoon and cleared her throat. “Excuse me for a moment,” she said gravely. And then she dashed up the stairs to consult with me.

She quickly rattled off the whole situation and her dilemma about whether to send Johnny to jail or show him mercy. I listened quietly wondering who thought it was a good idea for my indecisive first born to be the judge. This case would sit in court for 20 years if I didn’t give my opinion.

“Well,” I said finally. “It seems to me that maybe Johnny didn’t realize that what he was doing was wrong. He was really just trying to help out the Mommies. Children DO make a mess of things. And Moms DO need time without them so they can clean the house from time to time. Right? Good. So, my advice would be to give him the mercy of the court. Have him pay a fine or something, and make sure he knows that he should get the Mom’s permission before taking the children next time.”

She nodded. “Okay, but did I mention that he never gives the children back?”

I stared at the little girl. Why would such important information never have been brought up in court? I took a deep breath, “Sweety, that’s the only way to be sure that the house stays clean.”

“Good point!” she poked a finger in the air in triumph and then spun and bound back down the stairs shouting, “Innocent! He’s innocent!” There was a banging of the overturned pot and the court was dismissed.