Let’s be honest, mornings are a shitshow.
Dragging yourself out of bed so that you can drag other unwilling people out of bed, knowing they will fight you on everything from putting on clean underwear and using the bathroom to putting breakfast in their mouths and their shoes on their feet and zipping their goddamn coats. Most mornings, it feels like we’re barely treading water. Some mornings are worse.
A few days ago, we had the added a bit of fun that I was out of the house the previous night, which meant both children and husband had diverted from their evening routines to the extent that, in the morning, I was contending with unfinished homework, unmade lunches, and a strep throat warning note smooshed at the bottom of my kindergartener’s backpack. I don’t blame my husband. Our routine has recently changed a bit, and this was only the second school night he had been solely responsible for the children. But the morning was an epic shitshow.
Still, no matter how much screaming I might do before breakfast, or during breakfast, or to make the kids stop eating and get out of the house, I try every single day to make sure each of them leaves with hugs, kisses, smiles, laughter, and that three of the last words they hear from me before they get on the bus are, “I love you.” Most days I’m the hot-mess mom leaning out my front door in a “Thanks, Birth Control!” t-shirt and pajama pants, shouting, “Make good choices! Work hard! Yes, I love you a billion five million two thousand eight hundred and seventy five percent, too!”
No matter how frustrated I am, or how exhausted I am, or how hungry I am, or how thirsty I am, or how much I goddamn have to pee, I put on a smile and I tell them I love them, because I do. And I do everything I can in 30 seconds not only to tell them, but to show them, to make sure they feel it from the top of their heads to the tips of their toes, because no matter how frustrated I am, I do. And if something, God help me, happened to my children while they were at school, I would want to know I had done this, every day they ever left home, every time it might be the last time I ever got to say goodbye.
So I swear under my breath while I dump out half-eaten bowls of cereal, tallying up how much money we throw away in food every week, and watch out the window as they climb onto the bus and drive away. And I miss them, even though I’m desperately glad to have them out of the house.
I don’t think I’m paranoid. I think I’m realistic. School shootings happen, all the time. At elementary schools a hell of a lot less than at middle and high schools, but still. A kid could have brought their granny’s handgun onto the bus in their backpack. A kid could have had a fight with a classmate, grabbed their dad’s gun, stuffed in their backpack, and then walked to school, to the playground, where the children begin the day. Most school shootings, the VAST majority of school shootings, are perpetrated by students. Mostly to settle petty, stupid fights. And mostly, it’s not the intended targets who get hurt.
Worrying about other people’s kids is what you do when you’re a parent. Other people’s kids get your kids hooked on shitty pop music, or convince them the food you send them to school with is sub-par, or teach them kissing games, or give them their first joint. It’s other people’s kids, always, that you worry about “being a bad influence,” or bullying, or any number of the tens of thousands of things parents come up with to worry about.
And it’s other people’s kids who have guns in the house, who have parents who might be cavalier about those guns, other people’s kids who might want to show them off to my kids who don’t have guns in the house, and who might accidentally shoot my kid because they don’t know what the hell they’re doing. Or who my kids might accidentally shoot because they don’t know what the hell they’re doing.
I’m so tired of worrying about guns, and there are already so many goddamn things making me tired.
There’s an event I’m speaking at next week, running a workshop for 300 freshman who just read “Speak” by Laurie Anderson and need to talk to rape survivors, to really learn what sexual assault looks like in the real world. There’s packing for Passover, and cleaning the kitchen, coordinating Sexual Assault Awareness Month events for my non-profit job, crafting book proposals for my agent, attending my writing workshop, planning Girl Scout meetings, reviewing one friend’s incredible book and beta-reading another and putting the final shine on another friend’s wedding ceremony. And somewhere in all that, I have to eat, and I have to take my vitamins, and go to the dentist, and help the children with their homework and make sure they practice the piano. Somewhere in all that, I have to find a way to show my husband how deeply I love and appreciate him when I’m so constantly frantic with worry. Somewhere in all that, I have to find a way to just be in the moment and remember that that any second it could all come crashing down because any second it could all come crashing down. Somewhere in all that, I have to go to fucking therapy.
So I’m up at midnight, fretting about what a shitshow I already know tomorrow morning will be- because Mondays, amirite? And because I ended the day with a headache and a fight and I’m always dehydrated. How do people find the time to stay hydrated? How much water does it even take?
And I’m staring at my computer screen, editing my book for what I hope is REALLY the second-to-last time this time and re-reading old posts and thinking how long I’ve been living with the fear of death. It’s been eleven and a half year’s since M’s diagnosis, and I’ve lived with the specter of his looming death every day since. Practically my entire adult life. But this is different.
Being terrified that a cancer you already know somebody you love has in their brain is different from watching “random” acts of terror and violence become more and more and more routine until they must, they must, land on your doorstep. You can only beat the house for so long. And while living with M’s brain cancer has felt at times like standing on the edge of a precipice, it’s a disaster you can see, that you can watch coming. I suppose gun violence is the same now, though, isn’t it? We’ve been watching it get worse, and worse, and worse, for twenty years, all the while pretending there was no way to treat it. If it was a cancerous tumor in the lungs, rather than cutting it out or irradiating it, the NRA convinced us to treat it by smoking it out. It’s madness.
Or maybe I’m so good at compartmentalizing, I’ve become an expert at not thinking about M’s cancer. Maybe I just don’t have it in me to compartmentalize the constantly growing threat of guns in my children’s school, too.
Tomorrow I’m going to yell at my children, I know I am, and I’m going to groan and sigh and wish I was able to be better at everything, or at the very least better at this. I’m going to hug them so tight, and kiss them so many times, and make them laugh so they know as they step onto the bus how much I love them. Not know, but feel. And while I stand in my open door in my pajamas and my crazy bedhead, I’m going to be clenching my jaw and wishing, Please come home, please come home safe, please be safe.
And in the moments after their bus drives away and it’s quiet, so unspeakably, blessedly, terrifyingly quiet, sometimes I don’t know what to do with myself. I don’t know whether to start my day, to say, “Fuck it,” and go back to bed, or to sink to my knees and cry. Even after they’re gone and it’s just me here, it’s still a shitshow.
It’s wrong. Most people in the world don’t live like this. Nobody should have to live like this. We should all be able to simply live.
Read more about my husband’s condition here: What I’ve Learned from 10 Years of Brain Cancer
Read my most recent post here: An Open Letter to the Columbine Students Walking Out Today
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