I could have been the Disney mom.
My now 19 year old almost drowned once. I almost watched it happen. We were at a friend’s party at a lake, and I was there with him and his little brother, who was tiny at the time, and spent most of the party asleep in the baby carrier on my chest. Spencer must have been about five, and wasn’t yet a strong swimmer. But the water was shallow (wading-level) for a long distance, and he was happily running around and playing with his friends while I watched with the other moms from the shore, dipping our flip-flopped toes into the cool water. It was happy, and it was carefree… and then it wasn’t. And the worst part of the day, and the memory, is that I wasn’t even the one who saw it happen. I’d been watching him! The whole time! But I, his mother, did not see it happen. He’d had some sort of toy in his hand, and he dropped it in the water. When he bent down into the water to pick it up, he’d either swallowed some water, or got disoriented and lost his footing (he was still in water that was not anywhere close to over his head, but he didn’t realize he could stand up) When another mom questioned what was going on, I looked more closely and saw him floating, his head under water. I ran out through the water, clothes and baby and all, and pulled him up out of the water. His eyes were wide and terrified, but aside from an initial cough of water he was physically fine. He would later tell me that he knew to hold his breath, and that he was just waiting for me to come and rescue him. I will never, for the rest of my life, forget the fear and terror of what could have happened, of how that moment could have gone instead. That one second when I wasn’t looking.
I could have been the mom at the zoo.
My now 15 year old slipped away at a gift shop once. We were there with my sister and my nephew, and we were looking at books and trinkets and insignificant doo-dads, while the kids played at our feet. I picked something up to look at it, and when I put it back down, Paxton was just…. gone. I called his name. I looked down the next aisle, and the next one, as panic started to rise. I saw the front door to the shop (set on a not terribly busy, but not exactly quiet street) left open to take advantage of the beautiful spring breeze, and my heart sunk. I bolted out the door, frantically scanning everything as quickly as my brain would allow. Seeing no sign of him outside, I went back in, where – after what felt like an hour but was in reality about 2 minutes – we found him, happily playing with some trains in the toy section. I will never, for the rest of my life, forget the fear and terror of what could have happened, of how that moment could have gone instead. That one second when I wasn’t looking.
I could even have been one of those parents whose routine was thrown off, and who horrifically and tragically forgot that their child was in the car.
You know the ones. The ones who, whenever it’s talked about in the media, or on Facebook, or anywhere, are met with the people with the pitchforks; the ones who are screaming, “YOU DON’T DESERVE TO BE A PARENT!!!”
I was teaching yoga at the time; Private classes at a student’s house. It was a fun class, with about 5 to 10 people every week, and I always looked forward to it. My daughter, who was probably around four at the time, was having trouble separating with me one night, so I decided to bring her along. I knew that the host would not mind, and that she would have fun with her own daughter. It was 8:00 at night, so not exactly early, and Tegan (who’d been chatting my ear off for the first several minutes of the ride) went to sleep in her car seat and fell silent. I turned on some music, started running through my class in my mind, and drove the rest of the way lost inside my own head. When I got there, I started unloading all my stuff from the car… my extra mats, my water bottle, my bluetooth speaker, my essential oils. It was hot out – in Phoenix during the summer it’s still often 95 at 8:00 at night – and it was more arduous work than usual. It wasn’t until I reached to get something in the back seat and I saw that face. That angelic, sleeping face, and the mop of wild curls that framed it. I’d completely forgotten that she was in the car with me. And it wasn’t because I was a horrible parent, and it wasn’t because I didn’t deserve to be a mother…. it was because I’m a HUMAN who’d never taken her child to yoga before, and had gone into autopilot in the silence of the car. I will never, for the rest of my life, forget the fear and terror of what could have happened, of how that moment could have gone instead. That one second when I wasn’t thinking.
You know the only difference between the rest of those parents and me? The only one? They experienced tragedy, and I – for whatever reason – was spared.
We’ve all had those moments when we’ve looked away.
We’ve all had those moments, even when we did not look away!, when something unexpected or tragic or scary befell us or our kids in some way.
No one expects that an alligator is going to snatch away their baby on a family vacation.
No one expects that their toddler is going to climb into a gorilla’s cage.
And if you’re telling yourself, “Well it wouldn’t happen to me,” you’re being blinded by your own fear of the unthinkable. The unimaginable horror that yes, it could happen to you. It could happen to any of us. No one is immune. And the more we protest, and the more we point fingers, and the more we lay blame, the less energy we’re able to put where it really belongs: on support, on kindness, on compassion. On overwhelming love for these parents who’ve endured these unspeakable tragedies; tragedies that could have happened to any one of us.
So much love and sympathy to the parents who so horrifically lost their little boy this week.