There are things as a parent that you don't really openly talk about, not out of shame or secrecy but more out of a fear of jinxing yourself and your family, a there but for the grace prayer you whisper to yourself when situations arise that break your heart, test your endurance and strength, and rip your soul to pieces.
As a very sensitive person with an arguably overly empathetic soul, I don't often show how things cut me deep because I think of them not in terms of how unfortunate or that's terrible, but in terms of God I can't imagine how scared/hurt/confused/sad/broken that must have felt.
But if I don't watch the news, it's because I can't stomach it. If you try to press me to talk about the most recent scandal and I seem to blow you off, it's because I'm already nauseous over it, unable to process it lest I vomit.
However, it's that kind of behavior that others the victims of misdeeds and survivors of crime, that makes such pervasive evil in our society seem invisible and that in some ways gives permissions for these things to reoccur because if no one stands up when it is needed we can't continue to live with dignity and self-respect in our everyday lives.
That said, I want to talk about something that I did catch on our local news a couple of weeks ago that stopped me mid-breath and only exited as tears.
A three-year old was left strapped into the adapted seat of a school bus for over six hours. He was picked up from his house and presumably taken to his preschool, except neither the aide nor the driver checked the bus before taking it back to the transportation center, leaving the boy alone until he was discovered mid-afternoon frantic, slightly dehydrated, and covered in his own bodily byproducts.
This happened in the school district in which we live, for whom Kyle teaches. And where in March, after Kiedis turns three and is no longer eligible for the program he is in, my son will begin to attend preschool.
My heart broke for that child, that little boy who probably isn't that different than my own. His enraged mother spoke on television the thoughts I had already processed -- that were it anything but 60 degrees outside that day, that child could have died from either heat exhaustion or hypothermia. Several people failed at their jobs that day, and a little boy suffered for it, for no reason.
But what sticks with me to this day is how scared and confused and alone he must have felt very shortly after being left behind. How his young brain must have kicked into panic mode, fearing he'd never get off that bus. How he probably began crying for his mother, who was going about her day assuming the people who she entrusted to care for her child were doing their jobs. How betrayed he must have felt when she didn't come for him, when no one did, on through lunch time leaving his little belly empty and his pants overfull and most likely beginning to burn.
And the very next morning, with these thoughts swirling in my head, I had to put my little boy on the bus and trust he would reach his destination safe and sound.
This is part of the trade-off in parenting that no one speaks out loud of, this letting-go that is required which also leaves our children vulnerable to mistakes and oversight and in the worst cases, predation.
Like the eight-year-old Hassidic boy from Brooklyn, Leiby, whom over the summer was trusted by his mother to walk home from his daycamp alone for the very first time, only to get lost and be found by a sociopath who tortured him before he hacked him to pieces.
And like the boys-now-young-men (some of whom are my age, even) who are coming forth about ongoing sexual abuse, molestation, and rape at the hands of a Penn State football coach. A man who was trusted in his community, who ran a program for underprivileged and at-risk kids, and who abused that power in the most unfathomable of ways.
These are the fears that we, as parents, carry deep in our hearts, fearful of speaking them, realizing them, tempting fate to come and teach us a lesson about gratitude, honesty, and survival. We are constantly leaving ourselves open and vulnerable as we entrust others who purport to have our childrens' best interests at heart, and we let them go out into this world while praying ferociously that they come back to you, happy and whole and safe and sound.
Because too often, they do not.
I am aware I cannot protect my children all of the time, and I can only hope to foster relationships with them that were they ever to encounter a situation that made them uncomfortable or God forbid left them injured that they would tell me, so I could do my best to make it right, make their worlds okay again.
But that doesn't quell my fear, looking at my beautiful innocent children, that someone could so easily take it from them, that others do not and will not have the same regard for their lives and their hearts and their souls as I, as we as parents, do. It does not help me go to sleep at night, hoping that the choices I make for them are the best for them and will not leave them open for damage.
And it does not take away the heartache I feel for these children who were being just that -- children -- only to have it snatched away while their parents were blissfully unaware, trusting in the choices they'd made to give their kids every opportunity to succeed in life.
Yesterday, for the first time, Kiedis was crying as he got off the bus, a sad wail of confusion and pain. The bus driver and the aide, who was not the usual aide, were both very quick to say he had hit his head on the window while being lifted out of his seat but that it was very slight and he was just surprised for it.
I know my child; I'm used to these sort of incidences happening around the house. But that didn't stop my stomach from clenching and my heart to race, dueling thoughts of trust and suspicion fostering in my chest. I kissed my son and asked him if he was okay, which is not my usual response when I see the injury happen -- we're a bit of "brush-it-off" people here -- and took him inside to give him a once over, to quell my fears and to teach myself a lesson on trust.
I cannot be with my children all of the time; I cannot protect them from all the harm in the world though I would promptly give my life to do so. But that doesn't change that I still want to, that my cognizance of the most despicable contingents of our society fuels my desire to shield them with my presence and my body if necessary, and that letting them go into the world without me, even for a few moments, tests the fibres of my maternal core to its most absolute.
Tonight I will be grateful for my family and for the people who love and care for my children when I am not around. I will hug them and kiss them and let them know they are so so so loved and I will pray that my love for them will shelter them from the nightmares of the world they're growing up in.
And I will pray for the children society forgets or ignores or doesn't believe. I will pray for the babies who will never see their first birthdays and for the little ones who have never known a good touch. I will pray for the kids with the handprint bruises and broken bones and the ones whose shame and confusion silences their voices. I will pray for the ones who couldn't say no and I will pray for the ones who did and did not survive to tell the tale. They are out there tonight, as we eat our dinners and go through our bedtime routines, and they deserve as much love and compassion as our own children.
This is where we fall short as a society -- that we let our children be vulnerable to the unthinkable and unspeakable. It's time to make it spoken, to think it and acknowledge it and to do something about it, so that your children and my children have a shot at growing up truly safe, truly happy, and truly whole.
I'm tired of living my life in fear for them. We all deserve better that that.
Don't you agree?