A Pause Between Courses
Or, pass the lemon wedges.
It’s been a week since my last post. I hope the server at least came to refill your water glass while you were waiting.
A lot has happened since I last wrote here. In that time, I’ve had a number of strange dreams, often including deceased loved ones.
In dreams, it’s like we forget that people are already gone.
Sometimes dreams uncover things that we’ve been obsessing about. Often I dream about my adult children as though they were still little kids, from babies to preschool to elementary school aged. I have a deep nostalgia for Little Bear and Max & Ruby. For goldfish crackers and juice boxes. Things were simpler then. The future seemed open.
Now, at 19 and 22, neither college-bound, both are at loose ends. Well beyond the age of grounding, there is very little that I can effectively advise them on, but that’s a moot issue since they seldom ask for my advice.
While technically they are adults, developmentally there is still so much they need to learn. Whoever decided 18 was the age of majority clearly was not a parent. If it were up to me, I’d probably say 25, and even then, the jury is still out. I’ll let you know in three years.
As a parent, losing a child is the absolute worst thing that can happen to us. We live in fear of it—or, at least, I do. But there is something worse: Being the parent of a child who takes other people’s lives, and maybe most heinously, the lives of children.
The day after my last posting another school shooting happened.
In 1999, the year my oldest son was born, was Columbine. At the time it was the worst school shooting in U.S. history. Now it’s been surpassed by three others, including the one this week. And so it is that I find myself wondering about the parents of these school shooters. The mother of the Uvalde shooter has asked for forgiveness for her son.
Why should anyone forgive him? How?
But a mother’s love knows no bounds.
I find myself asking, how as parents do we reconcile the love we have for our child with the reality of what they’ve done?
The easy answer might be to characterize them as evil, or point to mental illness, lack of gun control, brutal video games, bullying or social isolation at school. Harder is to acknowledge our own failures—mainly, a failure to identify possible warning signs, or failure to believe that the child we knew could be capable of such a heinous crime—and to be willing to make a hard call, one that would forever alter our relationship with our child but could result in the prevention of a mass casualty event. Hardest still might be to accept that there was nothing that you could have done.
As a mother of sons, I have always made an effort to get to know their friends. I’ve watched them grow alongside each other, grow closer, grow apart, staying in contact with some, losing contact with others. I love my kids and I love their friends, and yet there is an undercurrent of fear every time they go somewhere. Will something happen to them? Could someone they know be a perpetrator of a violent crime? I’ve struggled to capture this is a poem that’s gone through many, many drafts. It’s a part of the small mammals manuscript-in-progress. Because I’m still not sure how I feel about the poem, instead I’d like to share the epigraph, which may or may not make you feel any better:
...the statistical likelihood of any given public school student being killed by a gun, in school, on any given day since 1999 was roughly 1 in 614,000,000.
—The Washington Post
So while I won’t give you the gun poem, I will leave you with a dream poem that feels relevant.
Evergreen The checkerboard boy unfolds before my eyes the way a straw-wrapper snake takes shape. Soon we are sipping chocolate egg creams in companionable silence. He and his saddle shoes match the linoleum. Sure, he’s a square, but so am I. We hold our breath so that this moment may last a lifetime. We know by morning he will again transmogrify. Soon the mood downshifts and Barbra Streisand makes us cry. Frost was right. We hold our breath all through the night.