On Mothers

[content note: gun violence, description of a murder]

I don’t write very much on this blog about being a mother.

There are a lot of reasons for that but the most relevant one for this post is that being a mom is not a part of my identity I spend a lot of time exploring and, more than that, it’s not a part of my identity that I want to explore publicly via blogging (when I decide to do it publicly, I tend to do it via conversations and discussions on Twitter).

I’m also rarely sentimental: I toss my kid’s old art in the recycle bin when he’s not looking, I very rarely wax nostalgic about what he was like as a baby, I’m the worst at keeping records of his milestones, etc. etc. etc.

But today, on a day when a lot of people in my country (and probably around the world) spent hours of their days staring at breaking news reports on TV screens and computer monitors, trying to absorb the reality that a man went into an elementary school and took the lives of 20 young children (most of them probably kindergartners) and 6 adults, I feel like the mother of a 4yo child in a way that I often do not. I am a mother and, as cliche as it may be, it is all I can do to not go into my sleeping child’s room right now and hug him.

My kid is 4. He does plenty of things that cause me endless frustration. He brings out my anger and it can lead to exasperation and sometimes tears (from both of us). There are plenty of days when, in thinking about his return from day care in the evening, I nervously anticipate having to corral my stubborn, tired child through a meal, a shower, and a bed time ritual, which I just know he will fight every step of the way (luckily I have an amazing partner who shares these corralling duties with me). And most of the time, I don’t even recognize this nervous anticipation when it does occur. It just is. It’s one of the many different parts of the job of being a parent.

But tonight, as I waited impatiently for my partner to bring our kid home from day care so that I could smother my son in kisses and hugs, I thought about those other nights when I spend that time before he arrives home praying to any and all gods who will listen, “please let my child be not too difficult tonight.” And then, inevitably, I thought about how much worse it would be to be the parent who suddenly has to come to terms with never again anticipating the arrival of their child home from day care (so much worse it wouldn’t even be quantifiable in any real way). I don’t have any way to begin to imagine what those mothers, what all those parents will face in the coming hours, days, months, and years ahead of them. Words are failing me. I just feel so sorry and angry and sad for them all. I am having trouble verbalizing the array of emotions.

While I have primarily empathized with the parents of those 20 children (I literally cannot think of my own child dying, as if there is some weird mental block on that corner of my imagination), I was struck tonight when ABC news reported the details of the one other death that took place today before the shooter made it to the elementary school. He killed his mother.

At 6:25pm tonight, ABC News reported the following on their website that has continuing coverage of the tragedy:

Nancy Lanza, mother of gunman Adam Lanza, was found dead in her Connecticut home. The 20-year-old man, shot her in the face, authorities told ABC News. Following the murder of his mother, Lanza, carrying at least two semi-automatic pistols and an automatic rifle,  drove to Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where his mother worked.  There he killed 20 children and six adults. Lanza was found dead in the school with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The rifle was found in his car, authorities said.

Maybe we will one day know what triggered this kid to shoot his mother in the face before slaughtering people at Sandy Hook. Whatever kind of breakdown he had personally, whatever possible breakdown they had in their relationship, those final moments before her son took her life…

My heart is with Nancy Lanza tonight, too.

And finally, the six adults killed in the school. ABC is reporting that one is the principal, Dawn Hochsprung, but the Connecticut State Police have yet to release the names of any victims. Since this was a school, and an elementary school at that, the odds are high the adults killed were women [update: in fact, all six were women]. We will find out more about them in the coming days, if they themselves were parents. School teachers and administrators who died protecting other people’s children may have left behind children of their own. And, of course, all of their other family members: partners or spouses, parents, siblings, etc. They were most certainly adults with large social and familial networks, each person in each victim’s life tonight mourning the loss of their friend or family member.

I’m not even sure why I’m writing this tonight.

I want to write something? Writing is what I do? I want to say something about the people with whom I identify, within whom I see myself, with whom I empathize and cry and grieve? I don’t know.

And while I rarely center my role as a mother when I think about my personal identity, I can’t seem to view this tragedy through any other lens. Perhaps that is how we process such tragedy, slot ourselves in where we can best relate, from whichever viewpoint makes the most sense to us. That then helps make something that is otherwise insensible more easy to process. Processing this doesn’t feel easy at all to me yet, though.

Tonight I go to bed with a heavy heart. I am sending my love to Newtown, Connecticut specifically but I’m also thinking about all the moms and parents who have lost their children to violence and who somehow continue on.

I think I’ll leave with this story:

Tonight after my son got home, I told him that I was probably going to hug him a lot tonight and he just needed to tell me when he got tired of my hugs. He turned around to me, put his hands on my shoulders (I was bending down), and said to me, “I will never get tired of your hugs, mom.” And then I cried.

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One thought on “On Mothers

  1. I thought of you this morning, before I read this piece. I was thinking that I don’t remember when O got his first tooth, or really when he first walked, and I have 3 mostly empty baby books. You know, the sort where I was supposed to have recorded the first food he ate, and when he first slept through the night. And I remembered a Twitter chat we had about our mutual lack of sentimentality about parenting. And I wondered how much I would give to have those firsts recorded if I knew I was never going to hold O again.

    And it gives me a little pause – am I too blase about the importance of those moments in this small human being’s life? Should I put more time into keeping track of them? If the day ever comes, (I don’t usually invoke God but it seems appropriate here) God forbid, will I want that book to spend a sad afternoon with every now and then?

    And those seemingly endlessly frustrating nights with these kids. These little independent beings. Who can do it themselves! I have those nights. More often than I’m proud to admit.

    And when I picked him up from school yesterday, I didn’t feel a need to hug him and not let go. I smiled at his little face, and thought, I’m so lucky right now. But last night, when he woke up at midnight with that horrible, scary croup cough, and I sat in the bathroom, surrounded by steam with his head on my shoulder, smoothing his hair and shushing his tears, I cried. And today, in my sleep deprived sappy messy way, I held him closer than I usually do, and more often. Because, for reals, (Again with the invokation of a deity I have complicated feelings about. It’s the baggage of my youth.) there but for the grace of God go I.

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