[Note: I started writing this article Thursday night, before the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. I had scheduled a different, lighter post to go up on Friday, but I have postponed it in favor of this more timely one. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre.]
I never knew fear until I became a mother.
Sure, I was scared of things. I had experienced a (thankfully) few scary moments in life. I don't like spiders much.
But this is different. This is an underlying, constant, pervasive, itchy fear. Fear that something terrible will happen to one of my kids (G-d forbid), to me (G-d forbid), to my husband (G-d forbid). I'm not talking about anxiety that rules my life, paralyzing terror, or a psychological disorder.
I'm talking about how if the baby sleeps longer than usual, I have to go check on him to make sure he's still breathing. I'm talking about how when one of my sons falls, I anxiously check for broken bones or blood. I'm talking about how when something does happen, I instantly imagine all the ways it could have been worse. I'm talking about how when I get in the car with them, I picture what my car might look like if we were T-boned by a truck.
Perhaps I've seen too many stories about mothers who have had to face that ultimate of fears.
Then again, perhaps I realize just how lucky we are that we have so far come through life relatively unscathed (B"H).
I'm not obsessive. I force myself to not be obsessive. It's easy to become so concerned about every possible danger that it consumes your life. We are driven to want to keep our children safe, so that we don't have to face the fears we know are buried deep within us, right beside and a little behind the huge ball of pure love in our hearts that makes us ache with yearning to keep our babies with us forever.
We do what we can. We are oh so careful. But, you know, so many of the stories I hear and see are about the one thing that was missed, or something that "they" could never predict, or something that couldn't have been prevented. Twenty first-graders at a peaceful Connecticut school are massacred by a mentally unstable man with semi-automatic weapons. A child dies in a car accident, not because they weren't buckled in, but because the seat belt latch failed. A chest of drawers that the parents thought was the sturdiest piece of furniture in the house falls on a child. SIDS, in a baby whose parents did everything they could to reduce the risks of exactly that. Heart failure in a nine-year-old girl while she was out ice skating. A nine-year-old boy who simply never wakes up in the morning. A 13-month-old baby who trips and falls head-first into a toilet and drowns in the middle of the night.
We can't foresee every possible danger. We can't prevent every fall, accident, or illness. We can't know when a crazy person with a gun will get there before we do.
So how can we live with this underlying, constant, pervasive, itchy fear? Why bother protecting our kids from anything, if it's so often the one thing we miss or couldn't prevent?
We can do our best.
That's all anyone can do.
We can prevent that which can be prevented. We can use car seats, practice safe sleeping habits, give our kids a healthy start, and make our houses as safe as possible. We can put latches on the cupboards with the dangerous chemicals in them and put gates on the stairs. We can keep the toilets or the bathroom doors closed. We can put fences around our pools, tether our furniture to the walls, and drive safely. We can teach our kids about strangers and proper touch and how to handle bullies. We can love our kids. We can love them. And we can pray.
Because being a parent, more than anything else, is about loving our kids, letting them explore, letting them out into the world. Our job is to help our kids grow up so that they can one day stand up to the world on behalf of their own children. And they can't do that from inside a bubble.
Instead of letting the fear overwhelm, let it live in that tiny pocket, right beside and a little behind that giant, glowing ball of love in your heart. Let it remind you to check those car seats, install those gates, and teach those lessons. But then squish it down. Don't let it consume you. Don't let it consume your kids.
There has to be a balance.
Listening to the news on Friday while stuck in traffic on the 405, I wanted nothing more than to run home to my first-grader and hug him close. I needed him to know that I love him, that Daddy loves him, that Grandma and Grandpa and Saba and Savta love him. I needed to know that he was safe, happy, and blissfully unaware that 20 of his age-mates, 20 kids just like him were lying in their own pools of blood on the floor of their elementary school classroom. I needed to know that he was surrounded by people he loves, who love him, and that I would soon be able to gather all 65 pounds of him (which suddenly seems quite small) into my arms, kiss his bright orange hair, and look him in the eyes and tell him I love you.
We can't protect our children from everything. There will always be that underlying, constant, pervasive, itchy fear that something could happen. Is he protected at school? Is that bookshelf sturdy? Does he know what to do if there's an earthquake or fire? Is the front door locked? Is his seat belt buckled? Is the bathroom floor dry? Is he healthy?
Is he safe?
Tell your children you love them. Hug them.
This post is dedicated to Charlotte Bacon, 6, Daniel Barden, 7, Olivia Engel, 6, Josephine Gay, 7, Ana M. Marquez-Greene, 6, Dylan Hockley, 6, Madeleine F. Hsu, 6, Catherine V. Hubbard, 6, Chase Kowalski, 7, Jesse Lewis, 6, James Mattioli, 6, Grace McDonnell, 7, Emilie Parker, 6, Jack Pinto, 6, Noah Pozner, 6, Caroline Previdi, 6, Jessica Rekos, 6, Avielle Richman, 6, Benjamin Wheeler, 6, and Allison N. Wyatt, 6, whose parents loved them and did everything they could to keep them safe, and to Mary Sherlach, 56, Victoria Soto, 27, Anne Marie Murphy, 52, Lauren Rousseau, 30, Dawn Hochsprung, 47, and Rachel Davino, 29, who gave their lives protecting beloved children.
More from parenting