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Motherhood through Tragedy: How Do We Do It?

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I started writing an essay for The Bump on “mom guilt.”

It would inevitably be a piece reflecting my signature snark and honesty when it comes to the less glamorous parts of motherhood.

Then, I turned on the news. As I type, 58 men and women in Las Vegas have been killed and more than 500 people injured after the deadliest shooting in US history.

On this morning, mom guilt has taken on a different meaning, because I can’t help but wonder what world our children will inherit and what mess we have left for them.

While I was making breakfast, I listened to the devastating news reports, and I heard this woman, a mother, explain how she escaped the gunfire and pulled to safety another woman who had been shot in the arm. She was sobbing, because she didn’t know if the woman had survived. Then she explained how she saw another young girl in her early twenties, seemingly lost and alone, and pulled her into a car. She handed the young woman her cellphone and said, “Please call your mom. Tell her you’re okay.”

My 3-year-old daughter bounded from her playroom to show me the two Halloween barrettes my husband had pinned into her hair: a smiling jack-o’-lantern and a cheerful spider. She saw me gaping at the television, and immediately turned her attention to the news coverage.

Do I keep the television on? It’s the world we live in. This happened. We have friends in Las Vegas who could have been there. People are grieving, and we must grieve with them.

Do I turn it off and pretend it’s just another morning where I have to coerce her into eating her eggs and drinking her smoothie? She’s a toddler, after all. I need to shield her from this.

I didn’t know what to do, so I put the television on mute and proceeded to distract her with an episode of Daniel Tiger on an iPad. A large part of our job as parents is quieting the concerns of our children, even when we ourselves are terrified. (As a child, I remember distinctly being on the bumpiest airplane ride of my life, and looking at my dad, who pretended to be sleeping. In his mind, if I thought he was calm enough to sleep, I had no reason to be nervous.) As video footage showing people literally running for their lives in Las Vegas played on screen, I wasn’t sure I was capable of faking it for her. I felt sick.

My husband, always the strong one, put on a huge smile and asked her if she was ready for school. She let out an enthusiastic, “Yeah!” and jumped off the counter stool. She ran, arms outstretched, to give me a giant hug, and I crouched down to receive her linebacker tackle. I held her extra tight and extra long until she started to wriggle herself free. With an excitement for her new accessories and the innocence of childhood that I forever wish her to have, she skipped off to begin another beautiful day.

This is not the time nor the platform to be political, but regardless of any affiliation, denomination, party, creed or cause, people are dead and families are suffering, because a man attacked a crowd of people who came together to sing, dance and enjoy a Sunday evening.

And my “mom guilt” is almost unbearable. I don’t want this for her; I don’t want this for any of our children…and I don’t know how the hell to protect them from it. I feel helpless and scared and, as I sit from the safety of my home, I feel so overwhelmingly guilty because it is a world my daughter will grow up in.

One day, my daughter will ask me if she can go to the mall with her friends, to a movie, to a sporting event or to a concert…and I will worry. Where there is good in this world, there is also evil…and I will worry for my child.

I’ve heard often from people who have chosen to not have a family say, “Why would I want to bring kids into this world?” Regardless of my own personal beliefs and choices, I can understand their perspective, especially as I hear accounts of police officers acting as human shields and throwing their own bodies on tops of concertgoers with nowhere to hide from the incessant spray of bullets.

Then, I think again about those police officers who, without hesitation, were called into action to serve and protect. I can’t help but think about the husband and wife who were at the concert and celebrating their one-year wedding anniversary, and how the young man sacrificed his own life to protect the woman he loves. I listened to the story of a 53-year-old man who threw his body on top of group of young college students, because, in his eyes, they had so much more life to live and deserved the chance to see another day. And my mind comes back to the story of that good Samaritan who literally used the shirt off her back to create a tourniquet for one victim and pulled to safety that shell-shocked young girl because something in her heart told her that she had a mother somewhere who was worried sick.

And for every one story of a cowardly, pathetic maniac on the 32nd floor of a building with an arsenal and a dedication to kill, there are countless stories of everyday heroes who will continue to emerge from this devastating tragedy that showcase the compassion, bravery and selflessness of people in times of fear, sorrow and terror.

Yes, I feel guilty that my child will learn about this aspect of the world someday and there is nothing I can do to save her from it. I feel guilty that she too will undoubtedly feel pain and sorrow whenever there is a senseless loss of life.

Today, our collective mom guilt comes with much sadness, but it is a reminder and a reflection of how deeply we love: our families, our children and one another. As mothers, we cannot have it all; we cannot shield our children from the part of the world where cruelty lurks. But, as mothers, we have the ability to help shape the future. We can teach our children that they live in a world where love always rises to the occasion, no matter how hopeless things may seem. I will tell my daughter that for every darkness there is a brighter light that overshadows any act of evil with the innate goodness of the human spirit.

I will share with her the words of Maya Angelou, who says it better than I ever could: “My wish for you is that you continue. Continue to be who and how you are, to astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness.”

This article first appeared on The Bump.

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