Illusion of protection — a grandmother’s lament

We were leav­ing the hos­pit­al with our first baby, a red-faced daugh­ter who weighed less than a sack of pota­toes, when we en­countered a friend who is a doc­tor.

I was clutch­ing the tiny baby, prac­tic­ally smoth­er­ing her, when he smiled be­nignly at us, and ad­vised me to loosen my grip. 

“But I have to pro­tect her,” I in­sisted. “I’m her moth­er!”

All these dec­ades later, I still re­mem­ber his three-word re­sponse. At the time, it seemed so un­kind:

“You really can’t.”

I have thought of that ex­change many times over the years, and I’ve fi­nally real­ized the wis­dom and truth of it.

Yes, we want to be­lieve that once that baby is in our arms the child is safe be­cause we are there. And then real­ity bites. It has bit­ten all of us fiercely over these last sev­er­al months. Last week, it bit with a ven­geance.

Young or old, we don’t live in Cam­elot. We prob­ably nev­er did. Those of us who re­mem­ber the days of a hand­some young pres­id­ent who seemed bent on giv­ing us that ma­gic­al place also will nev­er for­get that he died of an as­sas­sin’s bul­let.

And those of us who are par­ents need to face a world that seems mean­er, more vi­ol­ent, more bizarre and, yes, so much more dan­ger­ous.

So we watch in hor­ror the im­ages of little ones be­ing led out of a Con­necti­c­ut school and in­to an­oth­er uni­verse, one that will haunt their days and nights.

And last week, we stopped our lives to try to wrap our minds around an­oth­er mas­sacre, this one at the Bo­ston Mara­thon, an icon­ic and be­loved Amer­ic­an event.

I gasped when I first heard the news bul­let­in on the car ra­dio. I turned to my hus­band, who was driv­ing, with this frantic ques­tion: “Are any of our kids in Bo­ston today?”

I won­der how many par­ents asked the same ques­tion.

For me, it made sense be­cause our “kids,” now full-fledged adults, are con­stantly trav­el­ing, hop­ping on and off planes for meet­ings and con­fer­ences. And while they’re not ser­i­ous run­ners, they have friends who are.

I asked be­cause the very first in­stinct I have is still that il­lu­sion about “pro­tect­ing” our chil­dren and oth­ers we love so fiercely.

“Why did this hap­pen?” we ask, know­ing there are no an­swers. And we pick up the phone and call our daugh­ters and sons-in-law just to hear their voices.

The pain and rage es­cal­ate when we think of our sev­en grand­chil­dren. 

A few days be­fore the Bo­ston Mara­thon at­tack, one of our grand­daugh­ters turned 10. Such a won­der­ful age, with one foot in child­hood, the oth­er poised for a leap in­to the “tween­age” years. 

A grand­son was about to start the ad­ven­ture of find­ing a col­lege that he likes, and that likes him back.

And Han­nah, our old­est grand­child, is already a col­lege fresh­man.

Along with these three are four oth­er grand­chil­dren, all of whom, I sud­denly real­ized, have had to deal with a post-9/11 world. That’s a sadly de­fin­ing thing for them, and also for us. 

Today’s kids have had ab­bre­vi­ated child­hoods — blink, and the world’s got them, with all its vi­ol­ence and hor­rors. Would that we could wrap them in cot­ton bat­ting and keep them pro­tec­ted.

We eld­ers of the tribe still re­mem­ber ele­ment­ary schools where the worst things we faced were school­yard bul­lies and yucky cafet­er­ia food. The term “lock­down” was un­known.

And yet these grand­chil­dren of mine already are schooled in cy­ber-bul­ly­ing, bombs planted  in malls and movies, planes, schools, and now once-joy­ous mara­thons, too.

So, I wept last Monday for those run­ners, so strong and com­mit­ted and then pun­ished in this most aw­ful way.

I wept for the fam­il­ies of the fallen at the fin­ish line — 8-year-old Mar­tin Richard, Krys­tall Camp­bell, 29, and Lu Ling­zi, 23, — and their deep grief.

And I wept for all of us be­cause we are all vic­tims of those bombs. And selfish or not, I wept for my own — my be­loveds, one and all.

“But I have to pro­tect her,” I had said about my first new­born. 

“You really can’t,” that wise doc­tor had said.

But here I am, all these years later, still wish­ing I could guar­an­tee all those I love — and es­pe­cially the chil­dren of my chil­dren — happy good morn­ings and safe good nights.

Such a simple yearn­ing. 

Yet, so im­possible to at­tain.  ••

Reach writer Sally Fried­man at pin­eg­

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