This morning I kissed my children on their not-quite-clean-enough heads, buttoned them into their slightly-too-small raincoats, packed double checked that they had lunches packed in their beginning-to-fall-apart lunchboxes, and told them I loved them. I watched them run off into the rainy morning, to climb onto the school bus and go away from me for most of the day. Every morning when I do this, I force myself not to think too hard about the idea that it might be the last time I see them, but it’s harder all the time. It’s harder when I stay up late into the night, reading about eight-year-old children describing gunshots to their parents at STEM School in Colorado. It’s harder when, if all goes well, I’ll be picking them up from school to take them to our synagogue, where after the Poway synagogue shooting, it feels they are even clearer targets.
I want them to have phones, to take with them so they can text me and I can tell them I love them in their potentially final moments. Despite this, I don’t want them to have phones, because the internet and social media are filled with monstrous people who will prey on them, and horrifically most of those monsters are their peers. As they age, they will come to understand that their peers will always be the most likely monsters. It will be my job to help them learn this.
This morning I kissed my children on the top of their slightly-tangled heads, and my arms feel empty. I tell them I need hugs more, now. That it’s a Mommy thing. What I don’t say is that sometimes I just need them, the way I need clothing to protect my skin, the way I need oxygen.
When they get suspicious, and one of them is a very suspicious child, she asks if I’m sad because of AJ, a boy killed a few weeks ago in our community. I say yes, and that’s not a lie. I don’t say it isn’t the only reason I need more of them.
I worry about all the children. It sounds hokey to me to say it, but the words, “Think of the children!” spring to mind and mouth easily now. Before motherhood, I cared about starving children in far-off countries, poor children, abandoned children. Now, I worry for the children in a visceral, hungry way. I worry nobody will see their eyes looking too hollow, and know they need to be asked, just asked, if they want to talk about something. I worry that nobody sees them.
I see them, when I can peel my eyes from my own. I see the babies they once were, and the adults they hope to grow into. My worry is cynical, because they might be my children’s monsters, and it is also fretful because they have their own monsters, too.
Who is kissing them on their smelly heads and making sure they eat vegetables?
Who is washing their socks?
Who is responsible for telling them they are loved, and they are protected?
Who is responsible for telling them lies that help them feel safe?
One of the facts of my PTSD is that I do not feel safe. I lock the doors or very intentionally don’t, to prove to myself there is nothing to fear. I check where my hunting knife is sheathed, make sure I can draw it quickly, and make sure I don’t worry myself over sharpening it because the voice of logic is screaming over the constant thrum of fear, You are safe, you do not need this!
I think of that as my mother-voice, my parenting of myself, telling comfortable lies that are not lies but are not the whole story. Cocooned in my PTSD is the version of myself I was at the time of my trauma, and that means there is always a terrified child inside me, begging for protection from a world against which there is none. And though my mother-voice soothes, I cannot promise nobody will come to hunt that girl down, will trap her or hurt her. I can only lie through omission.
And when that part of me is exhausted from its own worry, she needs those resigned hugs, soft warm skin warm against mine, the rising of fragile chests, the smell of dirty hair and spilled juice boxes. That part of me only feels safe when she knows all of us are safe.
This morning I told my children I love them, and they said, “I love you, too, Mommy.” Not like they meant it, but they meant, I love you but you keep untangling my hair and scrubbing my skin and telling me to get matching socks and when you look at me like that I know you think I’m a baby but I’m a big kid and I can take care of myself!
I replied, “I’ll pick you up today and we’ll get bagels!” While you get buckled I’ll give you that mother-y look that makes you feel little and embarrassed because I’m worrying over you and I will ask what kind of bagel you want even though I already know you want blueberry.
“It’s just you and Daddy for dinner tonight!” I’m making your favorite bread and when I drop you off after Hebrew School I will be so grateful to know you will eat bread and laugh with Daddy and even if you don’t go to sleep you will be in your pajamas and cuddled into your beds when I get home and I will know you are cared for.
“Goodbye, pumpkin!” Come home, please come home…
“Have a great day!” Stay safe, listen to your teachers, do exactly what they say, and do it fast.
And to the other children waiting at the bus stop, “You, too!” And you, too, please be safe.
Some days it’s easy to silence that fear. Days when the news isn’t full of the testimony of children who have seen the specter of death. Days when my neighborhood isn’t full of memorial ribbons. Days when the raincoats don’t feel insufficient against the storm.
Those days don’t come as often as I’d like.
It seems like, lately, those days don’t come at all.
Read more about our gun violence epidemic here: I Didn’t Get Shot On My Daughters’ Sixth Birthday
Read my most recent post here: Playing “Would You Rather’ for Brain Tumor Awareness Month
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