Friday Night I received a phone call from my kid’s middle school warning of a threat made against the school. Evidently, someone had written on a bathroom wall that there would be a school shooting on Tuesday, February 21st, TODAY. I listened carefully to the message as the Principal reassured his parental audience that the school is taking extensive measures to ensure a safe campus. Extra law enforcement, Hyper-alert teachers and staff, and a promise that if I send my children to school they will be safe. And while I listened intently to the message, I was most bothered by his promise. This promise of safety, this request for me to entrust the lives of my children based on a promise that had no roots nor merit. I was not especially worried about the actual threat. This exact same scenario had played out at several schools in our district over the last couple of days and none of the threats had materialized. I assumed that this was just another in a series of pranks done by kids seeking attention. But I was still uncomfortable with his promise to keep my kids safe.
As the weekend passed, I didn’t give the call another thought and forgot to even discuss it with my kids. But early last evening, my kids walked in the room together and asked if they had to go to school. Little did I know, this threat had made front page on social media and had become a large scary snowball of rumors and fear, gaining momentum with each “like” and “share”. They told me that they were truly scared to go to school and begged me to let them stay home.
After giving it some thought, and discussing it with a few of my friends, My husband and I decided that this was likely a prank and that the kids should go to school. After all, I am constantly telling my kids that we don’t make decisions from a place of fear. I assured them that this was probably a child just seeking attention and that extra law enforcement would be in place. They looked at me with wise and nervous eyes as they digested the many reasons why they should go to school. But I stopped short, I couldn’t say it. I couldn’t give them the promise of safety that so easily slipped from their principal’s lips. I couldn’t erase the faces of Columbine. I couldn’t gloss over the photos of the innocent children killed in Sandy Hook. I couldn’t shelter them from the violent images they see everyday gracing every news channel and social media outlet. Guaranteeing their safety was an empty promise and we all knew it. And while the probability of anything actually happening was slim to none, there was no way to completely allay their fears.
We went about our evening as usual. The kids both had last minute homework to complete and I went over my checklist of lunches and laundry, and practices and doctors appointments. But I couldn’t shake the feeling of uneasiness. I couldn’t erase my kid’s expressions of anxiety and nervousness. And no matter how unreal the threat of a school shooting may be, the sobering reality was that my kids fear was real, and it was rooted in the violence that inundates them every day, I could not promise them something I had no control over.
Feeling quite unsettled I went to my bedroom to get ready for bed. Huddled over the sink washing my face, I heard sobbing that started out soft and grew louder with each approaching footstep. By the time my sweet child reached my bathroom, she collapsed in a puddle of tears. She was crying uncontrollably and could not even gather enough breath to tell me what was going on. I met her on the floor and wrapped her up tightly as she continued to sob. And one by one, starting out small, the confessional began. The tears were for the rash on her face that burned each time she washed it, they were for the contact lens that just ripped when she was taking them out, they were for her prescription eye glasses we forgot to pick up over the weekend, they were for the kid who scribbled threats on a bathroom wall at school. And as I stood up to gather Kleenex to wipe her eyes, I caught my image in the bathroom mirror, and I started to crumble inside. Suddenly it all made sense. As my eyes met with the stranger in the mirror what I saw was fear and sickness and pain and weakness. Before me stood a vivid image of brokenness. My pale skin and sunken dark eyes, the light colored fuzz peeking through my bare scalp, my hunched shoulders, trying to compensate for the heaviness and pain raging across my flat chest where just days ago were home to my breasts. The plastic drains coming from both of my sides filled with blood and fluid and tissue. The port protruding from my chest, the scars. Every day my children and husband wake up to see their fears realized. Every day they must stare sickness and pain in the face. Every day they are forced to think about their greatest fear and imagine what life would be like without a mom, without a wife. And my daughter wept in my arms because she was afraid.
And my eyes filled up with tears of sadness and anger and guilt as I internally whispered my own confessional. I knew in that moment that telling my children “everything will be ok” is just empty jargon overshadowed by the reality of the image that tucks them into bed each night. And I am mad that at such young ages my kids have had so much of their carefree innocence and sense of security stripped away. I am angry that their lives have been turned upside down as we plan our daily schedule around chemo’s, and doctors visits, medicines and a mom that sleeps more than she is awake. And I move to guilt knowing that my sickness is the cause of so much instability. My cancer has opened their eyes to heavy burden and intense pain. This experience has them walking on the edge of life and death and uncertainty. And I am deeply saddened because this chapter of suffering has opened their eyes to facts that we grownups know all too well. The truth is, I absolutely cannot protect my kids from the dangers in this world. I have no power to guarantee them that everything will be ok. I cannot promise them that they will be safe at school. I cannot protect them from evil or pain. I can’t tell them my cancer won’t come back.
Ultimately, my husband and I decided to validate their fears, express to them that we weren’t overly concerned about the threat, and let them decide whether or not to attend school. And today I have spent a great deal of time thinking about the events of last night. I spent time reflecting on the true suffering my children have been exposed to over the last two years. I thought about the impact that this time of battle has had on my kids. And I am certain that I can no longer use the simple phrase “everything will be fine.” My kids know that phrase is riddled with lies and inconsistencies, they see right through it. As their mother, I want more than anything to keep them ignorant of the hard things ahead of them, but it’s too late, they have already figured it out. And so now I must do everything I can to teach them to meet life’s challenges with strength and courage and perseverance. I must let them know that while fear is real, that they are stronger than their greatest fears. I must engrain on their hearts that they have a Heavenly Father who loves them and cares for them, and will never leave or forsake them. I must remind them that there is far more good in this world than evil, and immeasurably more love than hate. And I will share from experience, when life seems too hard and scary and pointless, that you must keep moving forward, because God promises that His mercies are new every morning. And most importantly, I will teach them to always walk in freedom and hope, because a life in bondage to fear is really no life at all.
This morning we saw one of our children off to school and allowed the other to stay snuggled in bed. And I don’t think there is a right or wrong, good or bad. I’ve had days in my life where I have walked straight into my fear, diminishing its hold on me with every step, moving forward until the fear had lost all its power. I have also had days when I wasn’t quite ready to face my fears. I needed the comfort of familiar space and loving arms, time to cry and breathe and rest. And as we suspected, the school day ended in peace. And as we unwind tonight they ask about my day, and my doctors appointments and my level of pain. They extend hugs of comfort and do chores with grace. They watch me fall into slumber in my recliner and use all my strength to rise up. They see me move around the house with my bald head and my hunched shoulders. And I realize that the greatest gift I can give to them is to rise each morning, to put one foot in front of the other, and to show them that the unrelenting human spirit can conquer even our greatest fears.
I had a bilateral mastectomy a week and a half ago. The surgery went well and I only spent one night in the hospital. The pathology came back this week and both breasts and 6 lymphnodes were cancer free. Basically, the misery of chemo was all worth it because it worked. I am very sore and quite limited in my mobility, but I am in good spirits. The next big decision I face is whether to do radiation. I will meet with my radiation oncologist in the next few weeks. I continue to be overwhelmed by the generosity and support of my community near and far. Thank you!