As a rule of thumb, I keep my list of goals as a parent very simple. The reason behind this is two-fold: For one, I'm realistic. I know I'm going to really fuck it up a time or two. Plus, fewer goals equals fewer opportunities to fail and in twenty or so years, I'd like to be able to actually believe that I didn't suck more than I did. The other reason is that the things I deem goal-worthy-- meaning, the things I will allow myself to lose sleep over-- are few and far between.
Quite frankly, I don't give a shit if my kids drank breastmilk exclusively or formula as a baby or eat kale voluntarily or survive on nothing but Cinnamon Toast Crunch. I don't care if my kid gets straight A's or is labeled "academically gifted" or is an athletic or musical prodigy. Nor do I care about their enthusiasm to do anything other than watch another Barbie movie for the four thousandth time. I mean, I care of course. But I won't allow those things to be the measure of the kind of mother I am or the kind of humans my kids are. Those are all just minor details that, in twenty years, nobody will give a shit about, including me, their mother, the one who currently begs them to eat their god damn kale.
I only devote my parental energy to four things and doing them to the best of my ability with the hope that one day, maybe they'll eat more kale than they eat sugar and treat everyone equally and with love.
Help them stay safe.
Encourage them to be brave.
Remind them to have fun.
Don't be an asshole so they won't be an asshole.
That's what Joe and I focus on every day, some days much more successfully than others, in the hopes that Marlo, Edie, and Knox turn into semi-decent human beings. They are reasonable, doable, and universally appropriate. They are simple to explain and easy for a child to remember. They are the foundation of our family's credo and though we don't always follow them perfectly, for the most part, they guide the way.
And it used to feel like enough, like if we just remain consistent and stay true to our beliefs, we'd most likely raise well-adjusted humans who we actually like and not just because we share the same genetic make-up. But lately, for so many reasons-- which include but are not limited to the latest tragic school shooting-- it feels like nothing will ever be enough to prepare them for the cruelty of the world they're up against. This world feels brutal, more unpredictable, and full of what the fuck's that I am having a hard time explaining to an inquisitive, precocious almost-six-year-old. I don't have a simple answer for Marlo when she asks me why she has to practice lockdown drills. I don't know what to tell her when she asks me who would be sad enough to come and hurt her and her friends.
This weekend, Marlo told me that if someone were in her school and trying to hurt her friends, she wouldn't hide. Instead, she told me, she'd break the rules and try to protect her friends because "that's the right thing to do and you always tell me to do the right thing." I had to leave the room so she didn't see the silent sobs escaping from me.
Marlo was recently awarded the Kindness Award from her class. So it makes complete sense to me that she would want to protect her friends. She's an empath and a natural-born advocate therefore I'd expect nothing less from her. And it's admirable, sure. It's a sign that whatever Joe and I are doing may be working towards shaping a woman who radiates goodness. That's our goal, after all. However, as far as I know, most kindergarteners still need the occasional help wiping their own ass so surely protecting each other from foreseeable death needn't be their responsibility? Hell, Marlo isn't even entirely sure what she would be protecting them from. But I do. I'm heartbreakingly aware of what to be afraid of because I spend my nights awake thinking of the children who have died over the last ten years-- children the same age as Mo-- and how their parents didn't get to hold them again at night. I wake up at night haunted with the fear they must have experienced and it shatters me.
I'm livid that what once felt comforting due to its' simplicity and the inarguable applicability, now feels inadequate. It's no longer as easy as keeping them safe in parking lots and convincing them that the dentist isn't trying to kill them with the water pik or yanking them by their elbows not a second before they jump into the deep-end of the pool without their floaties. It now includes preparing them for how to not get shot at their god damned school.
Clueing Mo in on just how fucked up our world is feels like an unnecessary robbing of her innocence. She is so blissfully unaware of the big bad world around her and her sweet little shoulders shouldn't bear the weight of it' reality just yet. It's my hope that the reality will morph into one that doesn't need to be feared but I can't make her any promises. As a result, I'm left wondering how I tell my oldest baby that it's okay to not be brave in that moment. I'm forced to now discourage one of the pillars I've built my parenting manifesto on. I don't know how I tell her that what I need is for her to stay alive.
I've spent the last few days off and on in tears. I'm heartbroken and bitterly angry. I feel helpless knowing that no amount of conscious or intentional parenting of mine or yours will guarantee protection for my own babies because the problem is so much bigger than a few golden rules are capable of handling. I'm sure the parents of the kids who lost their lives in Florida had very similar principles. I'm sure they encouraged their kids to be kind and brave and to not be an asshole, too. But it didn't protect them and it sure as shit isn't comforting the empty arms of the parents who will be burying their children this week.
I don't know where to go from here. All I know is that we have to work harder to protect our babies so future generations don't grow up accepting that school shootings are inevitable. We have to protect our babies so kids don't think that being brave and doing the right thing means jumping in front of a blaze of bullets.
We have to keep our babies safe. We have to keep our babies alive. We just have to.