This week, for me, has moved in slow motion. I have waded between various unrealized thoughts, in and out of moods barely formed before they change, and through a growing sea of painful numbness, as though the blood flow to some vital part of my psyche has been staunched. This week, my baby turned two, which any mother will tell you is a traumatic experience in and of itself; keenly bittersweet, especially when it is your last child. This week while driving to pick up my eldest from school, my usual NPR programming was interrupted to say that there had been explosions reported at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Like most of the nation that still suffers from some degree of PTSD after September 11th, I went cold. Ten minutes later I walked in to my daughter’s classroom and was pulled aside by the teacher who informed me that the mother of one of my child’s classmates committed suicide last week, that the children were told of the death that day, and that there may be questions at home. There were. This week I watched a city and a nation rise, I watched a tiny town in Texas burn, and I saw a young boy who I have known and interacted with almost every day for the past two years struggle with the fact that his life will never be the same…and try to cope with levels of pain, guilt, and grief that I cannot even begin to understand.
Today I kept my eldest home from school, ostensibly because she has a cough, but in truth because I cannot bear with having either of my children more than ten feet away from me at the moment, and even that is pushing it. While perusing my facebook this morning, and marveling at the support, the doggedness of Redditers, and the tenacity of Bostonians, I saw a repost of a meme that has been floating around for a while. It has always bothered me, but today it really hit home. It is the meme that asks you to repost if you DRANK FROM THE WATER HOSE AND SURVIVED. Take a moment, follow the link, and give it a read. (Although most of you have probably seen it, especially if your parents or grandparents are on social media.)
I have a very simple statement for the awkwardly boastful perpetrators of that meme: I get your sentiment. I do, and it is lovely, but the world (as you knew it at least) ended, fully, completely, and irreparably. Look around you.
For each of us that ending came at a different time. For all of us it culminated in the September 11th attacks, but even before that, there was Columbine, which effectively altered and ended my carefree high school experience. There was the Adam Walsh abduction, which I can vividly remember, even though I was only three years old. (I was terrified of K-Marts for years) Even further back than that there have been serial killers, mass shootings, Pearl Harbor, and most importantly, the media which force feeds us fear with our mother’s milk. It. Will. Never. Be. The. Same. The children of my generation, the grandchildren, and great grandchildren of the memers will never live in a world where they are not aware every second of every day that someone could pop around the corner and gun them down just because they are having a bad day. They will likely never be unafraid. I say this not because I think they are in constant danger, but because I, like all younger parents, are aware that they are constantly in threat of danger. There is always something lurking, and if there is not, the media will manufacture a lurker of their own. Whether the world is actually more dangerous, or no is up for debate, I suppose (but not really). What has changed, however, is the perception of that danger, the knowledge of risk, and the ease with which an incident can occur.
So, let me ask this of the water hose drinkers, the joy riders, the outside players: Did you go to school every day and feel safe, outside of the stressors of adolescent life? Because I didn’t. I worried that the weird kid might snap and show up with an AK-47. Did you drop your kids off at school secure in the fact that they would make it through the day unscathed? Because I can’t. I can never be sure of that, ever again. Were you able to go to the movies with your family without worrying that some nutjob without an agenda would burst in an decimate the entire auditorium without even taking the time to reload? Not me. It is always in the back of my mind. What was the drug problem like when you were growing up? Because I have met junkies as young as twelve. When did you lose your virginity? Because these days that pressure begins as early as ten or eleven years old. How aware were you, as a child, of what was happening in the world, hell, in the next state? Because our kids have it all, the good, the bad, and the ugly, at their fingertips.
I get that ignorance is bliss. It certainly sounds like a blissful existence. But my generation, and every subsequent generation, does not have the luxury of that ignorance. We are wide awake, and we are desperately trying to navigate, renegotiate, and survive the world that generations of “bliss,” has wrought.
It’s not hopeless. I live by the creed of Fred Roger’s. I teach my daughters to “look for the helpers,” and in doing so I become more aware of them myself. I struggle every day not to impose my fears upon them. I turn off the TV. I keep them shielded, and I will as long as I can, because I wish that someone had done it for me. What boomers don’t seem to realize is that my generation (X-ers and millennials) were the first generation that missed out on childhood. For most of us it was taken away all too soon by madmen with guns or bombs, on our soil, in our towns, in our schools. We never got to be carefree. We never got to be fearless and think that we could conquer the world. We were raised in a culture of fear. All we are doing is trying to give our kids what we never had, a childhood free of worry, doubt, and fear. And for most of us that means keeping them as safe as possible, without ever letting them know that we are keeping them as safe as possible.
Today I will write letters to my state representatives encouraging them to rethink their stance on gun control. (Here is a directory if you would like to do the same.) Today I will write a check to the memorial fund started by my daughter’s school to cover funeral expenses for a woman that society failed. (If you would like to help, you can do so here.) Today I will hold my children slightly too tight, and not explain to them why. Today, I will not only look for the helpers, but I will do what we all do…I will not let my fear define me, I will raise my head, look strangers in the eye and smile, and help in any way I can.