In the months after I had my first child, I was plagued by a variety of gruesome visions. I’d be walking down the stairs, holding my son in a blanket, and picture myself falling and smashing our heads into the wall at the bottom. I’d be driving to Target with him in the backseat and picture a head-on collision at 50mph. I’d see him wide-eyed underwater in the bathtub, struggling to breathe.
I thought I was going crazy. I thought I had become some morbid, fearful person due to lack of sleep. Then I talked to another new mom.
“I do that all the time, too!” she said. We were both relieved. And we came up with a perfectly logical reason for envisioning the horrific deaths of our children on a daily basis:
We were practicing being good moms.
It makes sense. Our brains were warning us of all the dangers that could happen, so we would protect our children. So we would walk down stairs carefully, so we would drive more defensively, so we wouldn’t run to answer the phone with our children in the bathtub. We were good moms.
Fast forward seven years and my visions have become less frequent, but they still occur. Only now I also see a depressed young man walking into my son’s school and shooting the children as they eat lunch. I see sections of sports stadiums blowing up and cars driving through storefront windows into groups of people. Things like that. Things out of my control.
A while ago, my dad said to me, while arguing that too many of my generation are helicopter parents, “You’re all walking around scared. It’s like you’re shell-shocked.” And it hit me—we are. We are shell-shocked. And maybe we aren’t on the front lines, and maybe it’s disrespectful to suggest we suffer the same as the men and women who are. But we parents have suffered from the slow, insidious, creeping terror of the last two decades.
In our 20s, we saw airplanes turn to fireballs as they hit buildings; we watched people fall from the tops of those buildings on live television. But since even before that, we’ve been provided with 24-hour coverage of “Breaking News”—war and otherwise, home and abroad. Bombings, hangings, beheadings, burnings, stonings, suicide bombings, infanticide, children locked in hot cars, children burned in microwaves, children thrown over bridges, children dry-drowned, children stolen, children molested, children buried.
Then we had children.
As the news cycle spins ever onward, it takes more work to be happy, I think. It’s hard to avoid bad news, as media compete for our fragmented attention. They pound the news harder and ever more repetitively, until “Breaking News” never even leaves the screen.
Yesterday, the moment I turned on the television to find Peter Rabbit for my four-year-old, before I could change the channel, we heard, “A Jordanian pilot has been burned alive by ISIS.” News sites now often include, WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT, a warning that ignores the inherent question of whether it’s ethical to display someone’s death in a storefront window. Death is for sale everywhere.
We can know the lurid, sad, thrilling, boring details of many of our friends’ lives on social media, and of any of the thousands of bloggers and essayists. We know not only about the “possible molester” at a nearby park through neighborhood gossip; we know about the ones in Toledo, Sacramento, and Hartford, too. We know not only about the deaths of our own family members, but about the deaths of others whom we never met. We read mournful words and, for a moment, we live them.
People like to say the Internet made the world small. We are one global society. We have Etsy customers in Puerto Rico, colleagues in Amsterdam, online pals in Japan.
But that’s a disservice, really. The world is not small. The world is enormous. You can plug any question into Google and have an answer because someone put it there. That’s how big the world is. You can search, “How to clean a P-trap,” and get a dozen videos—because there are enough people out in the world that some of them made plumbing videos.
So it takes work to remember: Yes, death is for sale everywhere, but that doesn’t make it ours. Death is all around. But it’s not always all around us. The world is big. Our lives are small.
Reading about missing children makes many parents believe the world is more dangerous than it used to be, even though statistically it’s not. Stranger danger is real, but it’s not common. If we want to protect our children, we should helicopter around family, neighbors, coaches, and clergy. They’re more likely to abuse a child than any stranger.
I’ve learned to protect myself a bit, lest I truly become the crazed, morbid person I feared I was. I don’t watch a lot of local news. I don’t watch videos of beheadings. I don’t read articles and posts about the deaths of children.
I try to know enough to avoid ignorance, but not so much that I know cynicism and sadness in my bones. I try to remember that just because I read it, doesn’t mean I have to pretend it might happen and add one more rock to my fortress.
And I put on repeat: I cannot create a bubble around my children. I cannot create a bubble around my children. I cannot create a bubble around my children.
I can simply try to protect myself, so I can be a happier person and raise happier kids. So I can let my children play outside alone and nurture independence and, therefore, confidence. So I can let them talk to a stranger and learn to be led by empathy instead of fear, and then go on to create a better, safer world for themselves.
Let’s make a pact. Let’s watch fewer minutes of violence news each day, read fewer posts about sick children if ours are healthy, worry less about things we can’t control (everything), and recognize the world for the enormous and mostly wonderful place it is. Let’s look at the trees with our kids. Let’s let them fail sometimes and feel sad so they can know happiness. Let’s talk with strangers. Then maybe instead of hovering over our children, we can ride along the waves with them, up and down, down and up.
Doesn’t that sound nice? Not ignorance but bliss anyway.