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.

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