Here’s what might have gone through some mothers’ heads that morning: Did she remember her homework? Will those bullies leave him alone? Will she do well on her spelling test? But, of course, the idea of a masked, heavily armed gunman entering the school to massacre innocent children was probably not on any parent’s worry list.
This has got me thinking about a winter day many years ago, when I blithely took my 6 year old daughter into the doctor’s office to find out why she couldn’t shake whatever cold/flu she’d been fighting for weeks. It never, ever occurred to me that the doctor would say she had leukemia and was going to die. But that’s what it was. She died. And it was awful.
At that point something clicked inside my head. Lights flashed, sirens blared. A neon warning sign appeared: Watch out! Danger! Anything can happen! Stay vigilant!
My other two children, both boys, bore the brunt of my hysteria. It was clear to me that I had to protect them from all dangers, real or unimaginable. There were times I became morbidly certain, that one of them, looking feverish and pale, had luekemia. If they were late coming home from school, I thought they had been kidnapped or struck by a car. I could make myself sick to the point of vomiting, worrying about them. My rational mind told me that contracting a deadly disease or being kidnapped was a remote possibilbity. But that did not ease my mind. You see, my daughter’s death provided me with a startling revelation: I and my loved ones–we could become statistics. Even if the odds were a million to one, we could be that one! I could never rest securely in the arms of probability again.
How great were the odds that a gunman would kill children and teachers in Newtown Connecticut that morning? Surely higher than a million to one. Not even nearing the threshold of possibility.
Perhaps the Newtown survivors will become over-protective, sick-with-worry parents like I did. Perhaps they will startle at every loud noise, check on their sleeping children multiple times during the night, become anxious everytime their children are out of their sight.
I used to think that my worry and constant vigilance would keep my family safe. That somehow my sleepless nights and stomach-churning anxiety would keep the wolf from my door. Not so. Things happen. Oh, nothing to the extent of what happened to the children of Newtown, but living has brought its share of very scary moments–burst spleens, car accidents, heartbreaks. Of course, living has brought a lot of good things too, and I wish my daughter had been around to share in all of it with us.
Still, the passage of time thas brought me to realize that protecting my children was only an illusion anyway. The best I could ever do was minimize danger. I could buckle them up into car seats, have them vaccinated, and keep a sharp eye out as they jumped into the deep end of the pool, shouting “Watch this, Mom!” And as they have grown up and established their own lives out of the reach of my overzealous grasp, I must let go of even more control. The world is out there, and they must live in it. A cloak of invulnerability is not an option.
Oh, I surely believe we must do all we can to protect our children. I want to see meaningful gun control laws enacted, better identification and care of the mentally ill, but despite all safety measures, there will always be something that no one saw coming. So we do the best we can. And for some, our best will not be good enough.
I can still cry when I think about my daughter who died 25 years ago. Now I cry anew when I think about all the Newtown daughters and sons.