When my daughter was one and two, and still in her crib, she would often wake up in the middle of the night crying. She was never a great sleeper but I always thought it must be so scary as a small child to wake up alone and in the dark. I would go into her room, scoop her up, pull her against me and say, “I save you. I always save you. “
I doubt she could even understand the gravity of the words I spoke at that age. It was a promise I made her though. From the moment she was born, as a parent, my job was to save her from whatever was out there that scared her or could hurt her.
As a parent you prepare for that. You cover electrical outlets, anchor the television, you buy blinds without strings to pull, you put baby locks on the cabinets with household cleaners…before they are even born you start doing things to save them.
For most parents, the first few years of saving them are relatively easy. Feed them, give them water and milk, give them a home and provide shelter from life’s scary storms. Sometimes this becomes more difficult when they can actually move, especially for parents of runners, but for the most part you’re able to keep them away from danger – self-inflicted or otherwise.
But then something happens. One day, you have to send those kids off to school. You have to send them to day care. You have to work and you have to leave them – entrusting the safety of those children to someone else, or even to the children themselves (the older ones).
This is the part when saving them can become difficult because it’s out of your hands. For me, this was a difficult realization, and it still is on a daily basis.
My daughter went to kindergarten this year and as I sit back and watch I often feel panicked because situations are coming up – big and small – that I can’t save her from.
Sure she had been to preschool, and I worried about her there, but more often I worried about her welfare versus her mental and emotional strength. I have to say these things have become much more worrisome than giving her the right purees, determining the right age to take away the paci or even the breast versus bottle debate. While all of these will shape her, they won’t impact her in the long run as much as some of the things that she is experiencing now.
In preschool she had a situation with some of her friends being mean to her and it made me so angry. Those other girls hurt her little heart. They called her fat when she didn’t even know what the word meant. I was so angry at them, and honestly, held a grudge against these little 4-year-olds.
I was happy to say goodbye to them when it was time for kindergarten but I was naïve to what was to come.
I let her ride the bus this year, doing some damage to my own mental health. All I could think about were possible accidents and how the buses didn’t have any seat belts. But it wasn’t an accident that caused me to realize there were other things – smaller things that would create just as much impact on her – that I couldn’t save her from.
One weekend we bought her a few Pokemon cards because a friend of her’s on the bus had given her a few. She became excited about being able to be a part of the whole Pokemon card trading world. I sealed her cards in a plastic bag, a friendly boy at our bus stop told her which ones she shouldn’t trade because they were rare and off she went on the bus.
When she arrived home that day I asked her if she traded her cards. She said yes. I looked in her plastic bag and found two cards. She had closer to 10 and the rare ones were missing.
“What happened to them all?”
“I gave them to people,” she said.
“Did they give you some in return,” I asked? I thought she just didn’t put them away in the bag.
“No, they just took them,” she said.
I got mad. I got mad at her. After some discussion though, I felt awful. It wasn’t that I was mad at her. I was partially mad at myself for not doing a better job explaining the concept of “trading.” But I was really mad at older kids who took advantage of her and took her cards without giving one in exchange – the kids who surely understood trading.
I called my husband that day to tell him about it and started sobbing. In doing so, I realized the issue was about much more than silly Pokemon cards.
“I’m so angry that those kids took advantage of her,” I sobbed. “My heart is breaking because I can see that these things will happen to her over and over and I can’t save her from them. I can see that people will take advantage of her kindness, her youth and her sweetness and I don’t know what to do about it!”
By that time I was sobbing through my words and half shouting into the phone.
In that instance I realized I was really mad at the world. I was mad that they were going to destroy this sweet girl I had given life to. They were going to hurt her until she was no longer this innocent, little kid. I was livid that society and the people in it were not better for her, for all our kids. They were going to make her an adult and with that would come hurt, disappointment and a world full of people who would take advantage of her – whether it be her kindness or, God forbid, even her body. I couldn’t save her from any of that, not really anyways.
I hung up with my husband, pulled my car over (the phone works through the radio) and sobbed. After a few minutes I took a deep breath and went home.
The next week she came home and told me about a girl who was kicking her at school. I asked if it was just when they were sitting at the table – thinking what seemed like kicking was just a kid who couldn’t sit still. But no. She told me it was happening inside and at recess. I told her to tell the girl to stop and then to find someone else to play with. I told her a real friend would not hurt her. After she was asleep I took a deep breath and emailed her teacher.
Last week I was putting her to bed and she told me about another recess incident that chilled me to the bone. She said there was a little boy in first grade talking to a group of them (her and the boys she is friends with) and he said he wanted to, “kill all the kindergarteners.”
I’m pretty sure my heart stopped in that moment. After Sandy Hook, after all the college shootings, after Vegas and even the most recent church shooting in Texas yesterday, I had been deeply and silently worried about mass shootings and my kids. I haven’t wanted to talk about it on the blog or even really in life. What I want to do is cover my ears and sing, “Lalalalala…” until it stops. The problem is that it isn’t stopping and each time it happens my heart shatters for all those involved.
After she told me the details about the incident with this boy, I tried to calm her and put her to sleep. Even though we watch a lot of news programing, I turn it off when issues like this come up and luckily my daughter doesn’t generally pay attention.
She doesn’t own toy guns. In fact, she only experienced a Nerf gun for the first time last Christmas when someone gave one to her cousin.
My philosophy is that no one is happy on the other end of a gun – not a water gun (generally), not a paint gun (ouch), not a BB gun or a real one. The only one happy is usually the shooter. She knows what guns are but until this point they’ve been just an object in her world similar to a knife – something that probably serves some purpose for people but is not for her.
I went downstairs, emailed the teacher again and sat on the couch sobbing and shaking. My husband asked me what was wrong.
“Why does she have to deal with this,” I asked. It was a statement and not a question. I knew he didn’t have any good answers.
“My mom never had to worry about me being shot and killed at school. She is 5! I’m so angry that she has to deal with this!”
My daughter’s teacher emailed me back right away. She had notified the principal and vice principal. A few days later she told me they were going to address all the kids before recess about something that sound similar to a, “See something, say something,” policy.
I wasn’t sure it was enough. I didn’t get any additional details. Did they talk to this kid? Did they notify his parents? Do his parents care? I’m honestly not even sure what I’m allowed to ask or know.
Her teacher tried to reassure me that she was safe there. My heart doesn’t really believe her because I know that if someone has the desire to hurt other people, they will probably do so.
Through all of this I’ve felt somewhat helpless. These problems are so much more difficult that covering electrical outlets and anchoring the television. These are big kid problems and part of me hasn’t adjusted to the idea that my baby is now a big kid.
I want to put her in a bubble. I want to “always save” her.
As the days pass by I’m understanding that all I can do is prepare her though. All I can do is tell her to go find another friend when one is being mean, to say, “Stop,” loudly when someone is doing something she doesn’t like, educate her about social situations that might be difficult for a kids to navigate (like trading Pokemon cards), to scream and bite and kick the private parts if someone tries to take her, to tell someone if she even hears the world gun at school…
I can’t keep her from growing up, but I can try to make it harder for her to be hurt or be taken advantage of in this world. In doing all that, maybe I can still save her even if I can’t always be there.