Excerpt from my public blog....An Unfinished Parent
I held my teacup in one hand while holding the steering wheel in my other as I barely inched forward in bumper to bumper traffic this morning. The coastal mist settled on my windshield and the sunrise was nearly obliterated by a
passing cloud. My seven year old sat in the back seat like any other day, wiling through the half hour freeway commute to her school. It was like any other day, but it really wasn't.
Something told me to look in the rear view mirror as I began a conversation with her and I noticed tears streaming down her face. Heck, we were only 5 minutes into the ride and no "no's" had been exchanged. I
couldn't imagine what was wrong.
"What's wrong baby?" I asked knowing we hadn't been in the car long enough for car sickness to have ensued.
"My back...my head. I just don't feel good mommy."
"But you were fine just 5 minutes ago doll. Tell me, is there something else going on?"
"No. I just want to stay with you today. I don't want to go to school. I don't feel good. Please let me stay with you."
And there it was, it was undeniable. It was out there for me to see and feel- fear. Fear of going to school, fear of not
being home, fear of being hurt, and it was palpable and her tears flowed.
Like most parents I'm sure, I picked her up a little early last Friday. There was no avoiding the horror of the tragedy in Ct. and as an NPR hound I listened to the coverage throughout the day. At pickup, I hugged her a
little tighter, I gave her many extra kisses, but I was also a little more melancholy than usual and she noted it.
My standard "tell me about your day sweetheart" greeted her, though I was a bit less excited than normal.
As she adjusted her little body in her car seat and pulled the seat belt across her chest she said, "Mrs. R told us that something bad happened today and then she had to leave the classroom. She couldn't read to us and instead put Nemo on and left."
"I understand," I told her trying hard to fight back the tears that had been stuck in my throat for the better part of the
"Something pretty sad and scary happened in the world today and a number of children were hurt."
"What happened?" she asked curiously.
I delivered an age appropriate version of the day's event without the gory details.
"That's terrifying mommy. I hope something bad happens to the person who hurt the children. I bet the mommy's and daddy's are very sad."
"Yes, it is. And yes, there will be consequences though they will be complicated. And yes, many, many mommies and daddies are very sad." I paused. " It is very important to me that you know, you are very safe in your
school. There are many precautions in place..."
"But weren't those things at that school too? They cared about those children as much as our school cares about us, right?"
I was stunned at her seven year old insight. Yes, terrifying and yes, scary. And yes, precautions can be in place and still
"Yes. Sweetheart, I'm sure you are right. But this was a terrible tragedy and sometimes..." I found myself without words as the emotion of every issue I have about loss overwhelmed me.
"Sometimes things have to happen," she finished my sentence seeing me all flummoxed. "I know, you always
say that everything happens for a reason. But for what reason would little children be hurt?"
"I have no answer to that question baby," I said breaking my own rule and wiping my tears and nose with my
"Ewwww......" she said giggling.
"Yes. Ewwwww......." I agreed. And the tension and conversation broke there.
It's not as if a tragedy like this happens where children are killed, issues of mental illness loom large and it is all forgotten the next day. Much the opposite. It is more that we build it into our understanding of life in these times; of danger in the era we are raising our children. We know it in our minds, we feel it in our souls, and we carry the sadness that all of mankind holds for the loss of those beautiful children and their families in our hearts. And, we live on. We continue to breath if not only because we cannot choose not to. We learn to accept loss and in that, sometimes as a society we become apathetic about issues that really matter because we think we can't change them.
The weekend passed. The final Chanukah gift of a trampoline brought muscle aches to Craig who took 9 hours to put it together and joy to the kids who jumped tirelessly...and with that Monday morning arrived.
And there, in my backseat was my otherwise stubborn and a little sassy 7 year old feeling the
truth of her very real and understandable fears.
"I understand." I said after taking a few minutes at a gas station to assess her condition, "let's go
The color in her face changed with her expression and even though the tears were ever present I could see her relief in my answer.When we got home, I called her school.
"Hi. T won't be in today. No, not sick....afraid."
No surprise to me, she wasn't the only one.