Thursday, August 9, 2012

Life Preservers

We all have it. Fear of something.
I watch it in my kids all the time. When they are very young, the fears are expected: the Dark, open closet doors, basement steps.  And we reassure them that they are safe with rocking chairs, lullabies and snuggly blankets. We create comfort through reassurance and repetition.  The same bedtime routine, the same stuffed animals, the same prayers.
As they get older, their fears change, and become more specific.  Hand dryers, bees, and the cellophane wrapped cow tongue in the meat aisle are constants in my house.  And though they no longer cry in response, there is a palpable urgency when they cross paths.  It’s definitely the fastest leg of our grocery shopping.

As a mom, I’m thankful for these tangible fears. Fears that have explanations and safety recalls. With beaming confidence I can explain; there truly are NOT monsters hiding in your closet.  No, I did not see a clown peeking around the corner of the basement steps. No, I will never surprise you with cow tongue for dinner”.  This certainty is comforting, both for them and me. I can put a name on these things, and therefore I can protect, or at least explain away, their threat. 

But what happens when adult fears surface? What happens when there isn’t a satisfactory answer? What happens when there are no outlines?  No lines to step over? No rules to protect us?

Its been a tough couple of weeks to explain away.  A crazed gunman in a movie theater.  Another gunman in a house of worship. And perhaps hardest, a killer amoeba in our own community lake.

It was only a few short years ago when we mourned a lovely little girl who was victim to a rare and deadly brain infection caused by the microorganism, Naegleria . Doctors and epidemiologists assured us, Annie Bahneman’s death was a “rare” case, and I, like many other parents, clung to those words like a life preserver as we helplessly watched our friends mourn their daughter. Rare. Heartbreaking. But rare. Not to be flagged on my mommy radar.
It wasn’t easy at first. I am in awe of how Annie’s parents have enough strength and faith to let their other beautiful children move out into the world. I did not have the devastating experience of burying my daughter and yet I still held my breath the first few times the kids jumped off the dock into the lake. I definitely went to some dark places when my kids came down with a high fever. The fear was there, but that golden parachute of “rare” seemed to always unfurl for me.

But this morning “rare” is losing its potency. After swimming in a local lake, the same lake Annie was reported swimming in before contracting the infection, another child was lost to this terrifying amoeba.

Tragic. My heart just goes out to this family who, just like Annie’s, is forced with the unimaginable pain of saying goodbye to their child. There simply are not enough, or even the right words to say.
Try to explain it to a nine year old, or a seven year old? Though they were not close friends, my kids have visited Annie’s gravesite and sometimes quietly ask questions about her life and loss as we drive by the cemetery. I of course, have reassured them with the golden parachute.

As an adult, I can take comfort in rationality.  Logically, I can understand the numbers are still in our favor.  125 deaths nationwide.  But 2 from our own little pond? 2 kids. 2 families. 2 investigations. 2 goodbyes. 1 was too many. But despite the numbers, this fear has been cemented.

But to a child, the numbers are just foggy.  Kids are more universal in thought. They live through experience. If I win a goldfish at the fair one year, I will have a clean tank waiting to embrace my latest win every year after. If this pink medicine tastes like dirt, then all pink medicine tastes like dirt. 

If there is a killer amoeba in one lake, well then…..
Nose-plugs and water temperatures are the safety features we cling to.  We are no longer pulling the cord on the golden parachute of “rare”, but instead making concrete actions to avoid tragedy.  My oldest son logically asked, “How do we take the temperature of a lake?” 

Welcome to the adult world of fear, son.  We try our best to outwit it.  To manage it. To make boundaries and stay safe.  But sometimes we come up empty handed. There are real fears out there that cannot always be pacified.

In fear’s wake, of course, is the work of being grateful.  The skill of finding and appreciating how full our lives are and recognizing the luxury of having so much to lose. This is the magic. This is the brightest place to parent from. Not always the easiest, but the brightest.

My heart is so heavy for these families.  I know that I have the luxury of fearing for my kids and they have had this fear realized.

I am praying that our kids will enjoy a good jump off the dock yet, though perhaps not this very hot summer.  And though I won’t be able to take this fear away, I pray I will be able to teach them how to be thankful for each summer day.

The sun on their shoulders.

The sticky sunscreen.

The life-preservers.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Mama Bear

The zoo never disappoints for people watching.

“Yes, yes…the gorillas honey.  I see them,”  I state blankly.  

But really, I’m absorbed in the domestic fight in front of the snow tiger’s cage and the matching zebra zubas parading by.   Why to people insist on wearing animal prints to the zoo?  Clarification: why do ADULTS insist on wearing animal prints to the zoo?  Are the animals impressed? I myself have never seen so many neon versions of cheetah.  Yes, there is never a shortage of entertainment, even after Sparky the seal waddles up his ramp to the roaring applause of four hundred chubby, sticky hands.

I admit I have a hard time not judging.  Kids crawling up a five foot fence in the face of mating lions.  A grown man sticking his shoe up the vending machine to score a free pack of Twix. A five year old having his poopy shorts changed in the middle of the primate building.  We all establish our own thresholds for public behavior, and I find my becoming more and more old school. 

But today, as I sit sweating in the cement amphitheater, all I see are the Moms. 

All the moms who are also sweaty and tired and trying to navigate through the sea of floppy hats and matching camp shirts , the best seat in the house for their own little school of fish.

And it is so much work.

Truly amazing to stop mothering my own camp for a moment and watch how much effort goes into a snapshot of our day.

First, get your seat.  Try to subtly give hints to the fella on the end that you would either like him so scoot over down the empty row or pick up his pail of food and allow you and your kids and your bags and your folded stroller to pass him and claim that spot as your own.  Subtle doesn’t work.  Direct questioning brings about a snarky comment and a belch.   Choosing to stay put, the gatekeeper heaves his pail of goodies to his chest and you begin the circus parade of walking on bleachers with whiny, not-all-that-stable-in-flip-flops, toddlers while balancing stroller, bag, purse. A phone is dropped. A shoe is lost. Water from the water bottle is spilling down your leg and you finally stake your flag in the empty, and bubble gum laden expanse of 24 inches. 

And the cubs are hungry.  Mama feeds her bears.

Get food: That smart, healthy snack you packed: inhaled in 3 min.  Aforementioned water bottle is empty and you need to get more food and drink to keep the calm. 

Stand up and note what appears to be a urine stain down your shorts as your dig in your pocket for crumpled cash.  Pick up baby, grab toddlers hand, straddle Jaba as you reach for the hand rail on the steps.  Toddler loses flip flop in Jabas thigh abyss and has to go back (God help me!!) and dig under the dark tunnel of his sweaty legs for the sparkling straps. 

Stand in line to purchase food you do not feel proud to feed your kids.  Too greasy.  Questionable expiration dates to say the least.  But the cubs roar, and mama files behind the other tired providers.

Add 2 hot dogs, 2 frozen yogurts and a giant (God bless you) Diet Coke to the performance. Mom directs toddler to walk in front of her to their seats.  Scarred by her recent dive below Jaba’s girth, she resists   the leadership role.  With a subtle bump from behind by the next person in line, Mom quickly sticks as much food possible in armpits and teeth.  One pit each for the frozen yogurt dishes, teeth hold 1 hot  dog “basket”, hand holds baby’s hand and other basket.  Toddler is left with a giant diet coke and sits down in a puddle of someone’s blue slushy in desperate thirst. Mom asks her to stand up, through her strained basket holding teeth.  No acknowledgement. Mom asks again…louder.  Baby falls down.  No acknowledgement from young cub.  Mom bends over and screams through the red plastic basket to bring her giant Diet Coke to the seat. 

This is the moment.  The perspective. 

I am like all the rest.

I am this mom.

Just like the mom who loses her kid crawling up the caged lions, or find poop falling out of her toddlers third pair of shorts.  I am a spectacle of filth, loaded up to my pits literally in unhealthy snacks, yelling at my toddler who is drinking an oversized soda in a pool of someone else’s garbage. 

I am here. 

Admittedly, there is a moment of crumble.  MY GOD THIS IS HARD!!!!!

And then, by God’ grace, there is laughter.

We all sit down on the stanky ground and laugh amidst our greasy picnic.

We try so hard.  All of us moms.  We all woke up this am and said, “Today I will do it.  I will bring my x number of kids to the zoo.  Even though I have been there 100 times in the last seven years, I will do it again because my kids need to grow up going to the zoo.  Having memories of lions roaring and trained seals and wax statues of gorillas.  I will pack snacks, tie laces, fold strollers, dodge parking spaces and lead my troop through the designated trails of the zoo while applying sunscreen, retrieving flip flops, and scouting out public bathrooms. I will make animals sounds in public.  I will try to come up with some damn animal facts.  I will take your picture in front of the zebras”.

And a moment to just sit and watch reminds me that I am part of a larger narrative.  Yes, I am the woman who will walk to the car with what appears to be public incontinence and yogurt smeared breasts.  I’m not even sure if my kiddos actually saw the damn seal jump in his tiny pool and pretend he was a shark.  I’m sure I will arrive early next time and avoid my interaction with the disgruntled Jaba.  But, I, just like all the other moms out here, am trying to create a childhood for my kids. We are bending over backwards (sometimes because our ponytail is caught in a fence…) but nonetheless, extending ourselves to great extents to make it happen for our bunch. We know there is value in these experiences and by God, we will straddle all sorts of strangers to claim our seat.

I am not alone with my hungry cubs, we are all just trying our best to make it through the human zoo of neon zubas.