The moment I learned that Elvis had died remains perfectly clear in my head.
I was 8 and it was summer in the suburbs, which meant unattended soccer and stickball and other games in the street with my best friend. Some older kids from the neighborhood ran to us, blurting out the most crazy stories: Elvis died! He was found dead on the toilet. He was shaving. He was drunk. He was in the shower. He was found dead with his pants down. He still had poop sticking out of his butt! He died because he was fat so you’d better not get fat. He died because he was old. (Old being 42.)
I didn’t know what to believe. I just knew that something bad had happened and it may or may not have had to do with poop.
My children may have their own day like that today, a day where they hear stories and don’t know what to believe. Only it’s not an old guy (old being 42) from the radio who died.
Then again, they might not hear anything at all.
However if the kids are extra attentive, they are already perceiving change in the school: a few more lollipops in lunchboxes than usual; a few more hugs at drop off; a few less kids showing up for school at all today.
I know we as parents all have different ways of dealing with this, of talking to our kids, of deciding to shelter them from bad news and to varying degrees. But I do know the one, more important thing we all have in common right now, is that it’s Monday. The very day so many of us have been dreading all weekend long.
I don’t know a parent that didn’t spend Sunday, especially as the day waned, in states that ranged from mild anxiety to total panic about what today would bring when our babies were out of our watchful eyes and into the world on their own.
That is not crazy or overprotective or silly, and don’t let anyone tell you it is.
Yesterday, I turned down a morning show appearance, acknowledging I simply didn’t have the skills or expertise to do justice to the segment–or more importantly, the emotional strength to make it through without crying. “Put on a psychologist,” I suggested (like they hadn’t already had a ton of them booked, duh.). “Because all parents can think about right now, is what will happen to our children tomorrow if they find out.”
I knew I needed to focus on helping my own kids today, not prepping for TV. I had more to worry about than not having washed my hair for five days and getting rid of the telltale puffy eyes I’ve sported for the last 72 hours straight.
This morning, Monday came, as it does every week.
I somehow managed to get my kids ready and packed, have the daily “where is your red folder!” conversation, button up their raincoats and walk them to school. I was able to drop Sage off in Kindergarten–and then leave her there–by sheer will, an abundance of hugs, and my inability to look her young teacher in the eye for more than a fleeting second. “Don’t go until I say you can go,” she said, as always. It had new meaning today.
In part I was reassured by a wonderful email from our principal last night which gave me the strength to let go of those little hands for the day:
In simplest terms, we will treat your children like they were our own. We will love them like they were our own. And we will protect them like they were our own. After an event like this, it is our obligation to assure you and your children that they will be safe in our care.
Next I walked Thalia up to her class, which I rarely do. I hugged her twice, waved a smiley goodbye, turned around to leave. I was sobbing within seconds, just outside her classroom door.
Thank goodness for a kind mom friend in the hall who grabbed me and said, “let’s hold hands and walk together.”
Holding an adult hand has its own restorative qualities sometimes.
I tweeted this morning that I wish I could send my kids to school wearing a button that says, “No I don’t know. Please don’t tell me.” Maybe it’s pure wishful thinking that I can keep them naive even a few days longer. A single day. An hour.
Or maybe it was stupid that now, like so many of you I’m sure, I will be spending the whole day today away from my kids for the first time since Friday, in a total state of anxiety again, with half an eye on my work but really, wondering what our children are hearing, how they’re processing it, how they’re doing.
Whether they need me.
Whether they’ll come home, as I did that summer day in 1977, and ask me about some weird thing they had heard.
Or simply ask for pasta for dinner. Butter sauce. Nothing green.
I just don’t know.
As my mother said to me when I was the new mother of an infant, panicky and anxious in a different way from today: Just remember every decision you make as a parent is right. And every decision you make as a parent is wrong.
So today I made that right-wrong decision that I thought was best at the time. As did we all.
While the clock clicks so very slowly towards 3:00, let’s not argue about parenting choices. Let’s just be here for each other. Because it’s going to be a very, very long day.