Yesterday I buckled 3 year old and 5 year old’s bike helmets for a quick ride around the driveway before we had to pick up 7 year old from the bus stop. I thought about all the times I’d performed this simple task. About all the times the mothers of the children who were slaughtered–yes slaughtered—performed this simple, yet loving task. Because as moms, our first instinct is to protect our children—before they’re even born.
I came in from being outside–all kinds of distracted– and wrote the following on my Muffintopmommy page on Facebook, “We watch every morsel of food and drink we put in our bodies from the second we find out we’re pregnant. We put our babies to sleep on their backs, research car seats, and baby proof our homes. We watch them sleep, play, sing, dance, and live with the innocence they deserve. And in one fell swoop, a monster can take it all away? I’m angry. I’m crying for those poor people in CT, and for all of us. Being a parent is scary sometimes, and I fear for what comes next. How bad can it get before it gets better? What is wrong with people? Monsters walk among us. I’m sick.”
I’m still sick. Like so many, I’m sure, this was the last thing I thought about when I went to bed, and the first thing I thought of when I woke up. I can’t stop thinking about dropping off my own kindergartner with his older brother at the bus stop yesterday morning. It was cold so we drove, but they didn’t want to wait in the car–they wanted to stand outside and wait for the other kids. So I let them out, gave them a quick kiss and shot back into my warm car where I sat with three year old, in my polka dot pajama pants and my bed head. And I watched. 5 year old hasn’t taken the bus much since before Halloween when he broke his arm–we thought it would be difficult to navigate with clunky above the elbow casts. But he just got his third and final cast below his elbow, so back to the bus he went. His back pack was heavy from the weight of the carefully wrapped book for the class swap, the plastic bottle of apple juice for the food pantry donation at school that day, and the library book on tarantulas that he had so much fun teasing me about, and so I offered to drive him.
“No way! I want to take the bus!” And so, he skipped off—not feeling its weight—not feeling the weight of anything, just beaming about the simple joy of being at the bus stop and waiting for the fun bus ride to school with his buddies. I really enjoyed just watching him grinning and laughing. 3 year old and I smiled and waved as the bus rolled away.
And now, over 24 hours later, I am haunted by words I wrote here when he was nervous to start kindergarten a few months ago—nervous that there were no seatbelts on the bus. And I wrote this:
“I know I can’t keep my kids in a bubble. We have a fantastic bus driver. I know it will probably be fine. That’s what I continually tell myself. The perpetual worrier. The “what if” person that I am. Buses transport kids safely every day, after all. I’m not 100% sure it’s safe though, this is fact. But I’m not 100% sure life is safe. That walking is safe. That hanging from a monkey bar is safe. That walking home from the bus stop is safe. That taking a waiter’s word that the dinner is peanut free, is safe. OMG, that anything is safe!
I realize, it’s not that it’s too hard to articulate to him exactly how safe the bus is. It’s not that I can’t find the words. I realized it’s this: he doesn’t need to know. He shouldn’t know. It’s my job to assess risk. To worry. Not his. It’s his job to be a kid, to feel the thrill of making a new friend on the bus, on the playground, in the lunch line. To fly through the air on a see saw, with me not peering around a corner. To feel the pride when another adult, a teacher who isn’t his parent, tells him what a great job he’s done or how proud they are of his work.
So I say nothing, and keep driving.
On the first day of school I will remind him to always do his best. To be kind to all the kids. To be a good student and a good friend. And when the bus fades away down the street with he and his brother on it, I will probably blink back tears, mostly of joy, knowing he’ll be full of every hope and dream his 5 year old heart can hold, all the while hoping I’m doing the right thing for him. And that he will be safe, always safe.”
And I cry for those poor children—full of hope, and joy, and love, and all the promise and possibility in the world. I cry for their parents, who despite their best efforts and care and love, could not protect their own children from a monster that none of us could have fathomed. I can’t help but wonder how many of them felt the way I did the day their kindergartner rolled off to school. I cry for all the teachers, the ones who died trying to protect “their kids” yesterday, and the ones who love and nurture our kids in our absence, and hope they find the courage and the words to face their students on Monday.
And again, I remind myself, that it’s my job to assess risk. To worry. Not my boy’s. All the while wondering how long I can shield him and his brothers from this. Because the weight of that backpack is all the weight a little child should have to bear on his shoulders—not the weight of this crazy, mixed up world in which we live.
And so I hug them and I pray and I hope—and realize that’s all I’ve got right now. It might be all I ever have.