When I dreamed about becoming a mom, I could imagine so many of the moments I would have with my children—holding their tiny bodies on my chest for the first time after they were born. Scooping them up every time they teetered and fell while learning how to walk. Gently stroking their cheeks as they lay in bed and drifted to sleep.
What I could never in a million years have imagined would be that every day as I send my children off to school, I have to wonder if I will see them again.
Every morning I have to steel myself for the moment when I grab them, squeeze them a little too tightly and a little longer than they would like, and say silently in my head, “Please, God. Please.”
In 2017 there were 348 mass shooting in the United States.
I woke up to these messages filling my social media feeds, today:
“Hug your kids tighter today.”
“Love them hard.”
“Tell your family you love them.”
I appreciate the sentiments. But you know what?
I hug my kids tightly every day.
I love them hard all the time.
I don’t need to do that extra today.
Which is good, because right now I can’t even look at my kids.
And we’re failing.
Yes, I make Christmas magical for them. Yes, I try to find new and creative ways to get them to eat veggies. I take them to the doctor, and play outside with them, and cuddle them, and try to be “present.”
But am I keeping them safe? No, I am not. Every time this happens we cry, we speak up—and then we stop, and just wait for it to happen again.
I can’t look at my children right now because right now there are hundreds of mothers who literally can’t look at their babies because their babies have been killed in a mass shooting.
Mothers who watched their bellies grow with those babies, or watched their hands shake as they signed the adoption papers.
Mothers just like me, who loved—love—their babies with every fiber of their being and have to wake up every single morning and figure out how they are going to survive because the actual oxygen has been stolen from their lungs.
My children wrap their arms around my neck, and I can’t breathe imagining the pain of those mothers.
I can’t look at my children right now because the thought that it could be the last time I get to look at them is more than I can bear. This is what it feels like at every school drop-off, lately, but even more so today in the aftermath of the Florida shooting.
Once I would have comforted myself with statistics and odds—that luxury is gone.
The statistics are unacceptable and unfathomable—and our reality.
I can’t look at my children right now because I don’t know if it’s okay for them to see me like this. Is it okay for my kids to see me sob? Is it bad for them to see me enraged?
I am terrified right now—shaking, on the verge of throwing up—and I don’t think they need to see that.
So if I can’t look at my children—my lifeblood, my everything—right now, where do I look?
I can start by looking in the mirror. I can face the fact that every time I haven’t sent that letter to the senator, every time I just logged off instead of engaging in a controversial discussion, every time I said, “That’s so awful,” and then did nothing—it’s my responsibility.
I can do better, and I will.
I can look at my fellow parents and ask them what we are going to do to make this better? I can support them and ask to be supported by them, as we crusade to fix this.
I can look at our elected officials and demand to be heard. I can be unpopular or downright disliked if that’s what it takes. But I will be a voice, not an echo. (Psst: find and contact your elected officials here.)