I've seen so many people asking how we go on now, how we parent now. AndI'm sad and horrified about what happened in CT, but maybe I'm lucky because I never felt safe before anyway.
I was three months pregnant in September 2001, living in New York City. So before my son was even born I knew that there wasn't any one single minute of his life that was guaranteed. That has seriously affected the way I parent him and his brother, and how I live my life.
What I know is that there's nothing external that keeps me or my kids safe. No building, or government, or lock that keeps the good guys in and the bad guys out. There's no magical thing or series of things I can do to guarantee that my kids are safe 100% of the time. And that's frightening, but it's also forced me to focus on what I CAN do.
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
And what I can do is look at the essence of my kids and of the world we live in. The first step, for me, is forming relationships. I want to be enmeshed in my community--my neighborhood especially. I make it a point to talk to the people who live and work around me. I want the people on the street and in the houses and stores and restaurants to know who I am, who my kids are, where they belong, and for me to know who these people are and where they belong and what they need. That also means voting for things that will strengthen communities and families so that we don't get fragmented and destabilized. There is no such thing as safety, but there's trust, and the more you use it, the more it grows.
Then I work on the personal. I want my kids to know that they are loved, and to be able to carry that with them. I also want them to trust themselves and their own instincts. And that only happens if I trust my own instincts and model that behavior for them. If you haven't read Gavin de Becker's Trusting the Gift, go read it as soon as you finish this post. It's a roadmap for helping yourself trust what you know on a gut level about what's safe and what's not, and not getting tricked or distracted by the things we're told to fear when the actual dangers are right there in plain sight.
i fear no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)
So I've focused a lot on trusting my instincts about who and what are safe situations, and then being very overt about describing that and what I felt to my kids. I want them to grow up not only trusting their instincts but having language to describe the process of trusting their instincts. Once when my little guy (he's in second grade now) was 4, he and I were on the subway on the way to preschool, and some 20-year-old kids got on the car and started fighting and something about it felt wrong, not just normal kid fighting. It turned out to be a knife fight. Because I trusted my instinct that something was wrong, I'd grabbed my son and yelled out at the other mom and kid on the car and the four of us were through the door onto another car before anyone else even heard us yelling at them or noticed the knives. Afterward we talked a lot about how I knew. (How did I know? A prickly feeling and a perception that something wasn't fitting in right, like when you try to force the wrong puzzle piece in--the same way I knew when I was about to be robbed at gunpoint when I lived in Mexico. I've learned to trust that prickly feeling.)
I also want my kids to look for the helpers, but even more than that I want them to BE the helpers. My son saw me yell "Tiene cuchillo!" at the other mom on the car and saw the two of us work together to get our kids out and warn the other passengers. My older son knows that if something happens I will hand him my phone and his job is to call 911 and describe the situation and hold his brother's hand while I help the situation. Remember my friend who caught the child rapist? She and I used to talk all the time about being the helper. If you rehearse it enough times you don't hesitate when the situation arises. It's ok if you're afraid, because everyone's afraid, but there is always something you can do to make things better.
So I didn't hesitate to tell my kids about Sandy Hook. My ex-husband called to strategize about how to tell them, but neither of us considered not doing it. We decided to do it together, and approached it from a "there's something you need to know" point of view, and that that's why adults were all so on edge. Both kids were sobered, but neither of them were fearful. It was like talking about what you do if you fall or get pushed onto the subway tracks, or if you get locked into the bathroom, or who you approach if you get lost, or what you do if one person gets stuck on the inside of the subway car and one on the platform, or the house catches on fire, or someone gets hit by a car. It was like talking about Hurricane Sandy and making more extensive escape plans than we'd had before. It is serious, but we trust you enough to tell you the truth.
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart
And here, I'm going to go here, too: We talk about how some kids are not safe all/most of the time, and how those kids tend to be poorer than my kids are. And that they need to be aware of that and do whatever they can not to contribute to that problem, and not assume that what happens to them on a daily basis is what happens to everyone else. My kids can't solve that problem now, but I owe it to them to tell them the truth and let them decide later what they will do in response.
So I am not afraid. My kids know the truth. They know to be ready, and to offer what they can.
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
["i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)" is by e.e. cummings]