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 firstname.lastname@example.org