There are moments as a parent when I just don't know how to breathe.
Sweet moments when the breathlessness accompanies deep rivers of love, like when I melt at the perfect baby girl nursing in my arms. When her dark gray eyes lock into mine and she pauses to give me a magical, milky grin. There are moments heavy with astonishment and wonder as I watch my blossoming preschooler grow into an amazing little girl right before my eyes, capable of more than I imagined mere months ago. Then there are other moments when I look down, stumbling, at a tear-stained face begging me not to leave. When I've tried reasoning and discussing, questioning and reassuring, and I know all I can do now is leave my little girl in a puddle on the dance studio tiles, despite my painful desire to scoop her up and smother her with love all the way home. Sometimes, I can barely catch my breath, trying to gather courage to do what is best when it hurts to do it. And, in contrast, there are days when I find myself holding my breath just to keep from exploding; counting for patience as I try to remind myself it's unfair to expect a preschooler to act like anything other than a preschooler.
Moments at either end of the spectrum, from frustration and inadequacy to overwhelming joy and gratitude, all change the echo of my heartbeat, rushing or slowing the rise and fall of my chest. It's a wonder I can breathe at all, given how very much I feel parenting, and that is the thing that has surprised me most about this journey I'm on.
Becoming a mother has significantly changed my reaction to the world. Suddenly, I am able to view experiences though the lens of someone who has so very, very much to lose. Lately, that is all I can think about. I just can't stop myself from wondering what is going on in our world. What is going on in my daughters' world? Most of the time, we feel isolated and safe. We felt far away from the "bad guys" living on Nantucket, on our tiny spit of sand where everyone left keys in cars and kitchen doors unlocked; now that we've moved we feel just as protected, lost in the middle of Nowhere, Wyoming. Other times, reality shakes us to the core.
I look at my little girls and I think about how every single person started this way: innocent and precious, naturally inclined to do good. Each person was once a baby quietly sleeping in someone's arms. Each person was once a small child, pure and eager to love. But somewhere along the way, we fail some of them. Their parents fail them. Their teachers fail them. Their communities fail them. Their government fails them. We all, collectively, fail them, and instead of growing up to be the kind of people who rush to the aid of others after a bomb, they grow up to be the kind of people who detonate the bomb.
After terrifying events such this, we sift through evidence, hearsay and gossip in hopes of answering the question on everyone's lips: "Why?" We look for someone to blame or something to which we can point as the "cause," so we can reassure ourselves that it wouldn't happen in our town to our family -- and most especially, that the villain wouldn't be our son or daughter. Yet, despite all the discussion and despite the seemingly increasing frequency of these incidents, there never appears to be any real answers or solutions. No matter where or who we are and what we are doing we are all equally safe... and we are all equally unsafe. We can't anticipate everything. We can't account for the madness or evils in others. We can't help the blinders we wear when it comes to our children. We can't imagine the unimaginable.
As a parent, that knocks the wind out of me. It downright terrifies me.
It terrifies me because I don't know how to explain such unbelievable malice to a daughter who can't comprehend why one child would want to take a toy away from another, let alone why an adult would inflict physical violence on someone else. It terrifies me because I can't guarantee continued innocence and bliss when I can't even assure a lifetime of safety. And it terrifies me to think that there is no promised path through the maze of parenting to my end goal of a kind, successful, happy and healthy adult child. The weight of this incredibly wonderful yet profoundly serious endeavor can be suffocating.
Today I felt a flicker of panic. I looked at my girls and I felt all the questions, all the endless possible tragedies, reverberating in my heart. I felt the weight of motherhood and its awesome responsibilities bearing down on me. And then I did the only thing I could do: I took a deep breath and vowed to enjoy that exact moment, the one after it, and the one following that. I thought of the Mr. Rogers quote oft-shared today to "look for the helpers" in times of disaster, and I remembered that even in times of blackness there are stars.
We can't live in fear. We can't raise our children in fear. We can only do our best, staying alert, but also celebrating each moment and living love. Love for our communities and friends, love for our families, and most especially, love for the wondrous little people who take our breath away. If we do that, then I have to hope all else will turn out fine.