What Do We Know?

04/29/2013 11:12 am ET | Updated Jun 29, 2013

"I am mother."

I am, like most, struggling with the events surrounding the Marathon Bombing in my city. All of it: the tragedy, the horror, the mystery, the senselessness, the heroes, the triumph. I devour facts, hang on every single news story, blip, speculation, update -- some people complain about the 24/7 coverage, not me. Because I want to know, I want to hear it all. I want to understand.

Someone needs to explain this to me, because the thought lying behind all the information filling my head, swimming through my emotions and interfering, like static, with my day, is this one remaining 'why': Why did the 19-year-old boy and suspect, Dzhokhar, allegedly resort to murder? The other suspect, Tamerlan, has a trajectory that seems more clear: the culture shock of his move here from Dagestan at 14; the difficulty of transitioning as a teenager, never quite fitting in; his drift towards a more fundamentalist Islam and eventual radicalization. He slapped a woman, he was abusive and controlling to his wife, he was a boxer; all hints at a potentially violent nature. But the boy? Dzhokhar? How did that happen?

"My kids have nothing to do with this. I know this! I am mother," Zubeidat Tsarnaev declared. But she left them while her youngest was still in high school, urged the older brother toward a stricter adherence to Islam, and ostensibly put the younger brother under the care of his troubled older brother after retreating to Chechnya. What did she know, how could she know? And what do any of us know really, as mothers, about our children?

Ask me, and I will tell you that I know my children inside out, as no one else possibly could. I can predict every behavior; I know the workings of their individual hearts as well as my own. But looking back, I recognize with the laser sharp clarity of guilt, that I overlooked lots of cues, lots of opportunities, lots of ways I could have intervened in a positive way with each and every one of my children's' upbringing that may have made a difference in some mistaken turns they made, some glitches here or there on their path moving forward. Big things. Little things. Things I missed. Nothing infuriates me more than the phrase sometimes said about parents, "doing the best they can." I've always seen it as an excuse for not doing enough, a whiney justification for failure. "No," I countered, "I did everything I could," and there is a difference, I absolutely believe that to this day.

But, being brutally honest as I look in the rearview mirror now that my children are grown, I know I missed things, cues, hints, shades of challenges heading their way that maybe I could have headed off at the pass. As a new mother at the age of 21, I have to admit, I just did the best I could. By the time my fourth arrived when I was 42, I was more aware, but still, lets face it, I didn't always do "everything" because I didn't notice "everything." It haunts me in a way that only a mother's guilt can.

Thankfully, yes luckily, in spite of any of my numerous failings, my children are each uniquely wonderful, happy, productive, thoroughly loved and appreciated members of my immediate and extended family, and of society.

I saw photos of the Tsarnaev boys when they were very young; beautiful little faces, as sweet as any, but made eerie and foreboding under the circumstances. Dzhokhar remains an enigma. A good boy by all accounts, likeable, good-natured, friendly, with worthy achievable goals, totally assimilated, at least from the outside. One of us. The news accounts paint a picture of this regular kid falling prey to the influence of his older, charismatic brother who led him down a dark path. I can almost believe that. Almost.

Nothing I have seen or heard about that younger brother in particular, or mass murderers and jihadists in general, and nothing I personally have experienced about the inner workings of people can explain the leap between being a kid in college with friends and a bright future to a cold and grisly mass murderer. Homework, joking with friends and tweets one day, and the very next, placing a bomb laced with nails at the feet of an 8-year-old boy? Walking through a throng of innocent, welcoming people with the intention of killing each and every one?

I remember hearing once that even under hypnosis, you cannot be coerced to do something outside of your instinctive, basic moral imperative, like murder. There are a ton of questions that are being investigated exhaustively by authorities and journalists. Every day I turn on the television, radio and computer to find out "breaking news." I soak it up like a sponge, I am hollowed out and waiting for information to fill me up again.

I wait for the answer that every mother wants to know: How does this happen to a little curly-haired boy with soulful eyes and big ears that did all the right things? What did his mother miss?