Note: While all of my family members are safe, I have friends who are mourning the loss of their hero, MIT police officer Sean Collier. My love and hugs go to them and all the families who are hurting and grieving today.
It will be one of those moments where people ask you “Where were you when…”
It is Monday, April 15th. The start of school vacation week. I take the boys with me to work at the sensory gym while Tim finishes up work. He always works from home on Marathon Monday because his office is near the start of the race. He was going to come get the boys when he was done.
My phone starts beeping with incoming text messages.
“Did you see what is going on?” “Are you watching the news?” “WTF is going on?”
I text back that I was at work and with the boys and couldn’t see anything.
“There was an explosion at the finish line.”
I look over at Howie and Lewis, giggling together as they played on the Club Penguin website on the gym’s computer.
I want to throw up.
I start texting friends furiously for information. We had friends who were running that day. Family who were going to watch the race.
To a friend: “J? Is she ok?” “Yes, her husband posted on Facebook that he heard from her.”
To my cousin: “Are you home? Did you go watch the race?” “We did but we’re home now.”
To another friend whose husband was running: “Hey…just checking in…” “He’s been home for an hour. He’s fine.”
Tim comes by an hour later to bring the boys home. I spend the rest of the evening glued to the computer. While everyone I knew was fine, it was clear there were people who were not.
It is Tuesday April 16th. We have free tickets to a Pawtucket Red Sox game. We’re meeting my friends Kristin and Lexi there with their families. I hadn’t said anything to Gerry yet about what happened in Boston, but I knew I had to. I knew there would be a moment of silence for the three people who lost their lives on Monday. I knew someone would say something at baseball practice that night.
Telling him was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done as a parent. I told him what happened. I told him they were going to catch the people who did it.
He was more interested in the technology behind how they were going to identify the suspects. And he reminded me not to believe everything I hear from the government. “They lied a lot during Vietnam, you know,” he said. I nodded and walked out of the room. I made a mental note to pay more attention to the shows he’s watching on The History Channel.
It is a picture perfect day at the park. Our nine kids blissfully cheered on the PawSox and David Ortiz while doing The Chicken Dance. They laugh and stuff their faces. The grownups chat and smile. For those few hours there was no news, no phone interruptions, no breaking news bulletins. But I still can’t breathe.
It is Wednesday April 17th. All three boys are with me at work again in the morning. There was no update on anything. Tim was working in Cambridge near MIT. I saw a website with a montage of pictures taken around the time of the bombings. Again, I want to throw up. I really try to focus on parenting.
Just 40 miles away, a family was grieving over losing their eight-year-old son.
Gerry goes off with a friend to play tennis for the afternoon. Howie and Lewis play their superhero games. I hear “we need to explode that bad guy!” and I lose it. I start yelling at them to stop – that those words weren’t nice and you can’t play that way and if you say that at school you will get in huge trouble. I hold back tears. I’m supposed to be holding my kids close and cherishing every moment but I am screaming at them. The noise inside my own head – my own fears of failing as a parent to keep my kids safe – they are taking over me.
The boys look at me like I’m crazy.
I retreat upstairs to play Candy Crush Saga. Guilt overwhelmed me. My kids are safe, healthy, alive. I can sit and play this stupid game after yelling at them.
I’m on the bombs level in the game. With each move I make, time ticks away. It feels wrong to be playing this right here right now.
I spend the next hour sitting on the edge of losing my mind. I watch the clock waiting for Gerry to come home. I know he’s safe with our friends but he’s not under my roof in front of me.
Everyone I love makes it home safe that day. I spend a lot of time alone in the bathroom just needing space.
It is Thursday April 18th. We’re stuck at home today because both Howie and Lewis have their home therapy. I scheduled it on purpose at the same time so I’d have a break. However, it becomes clear that Howie has picked up on the stress – my stress – in the house and he can’t handle the noise of the two therapists talking to each other while he’s working on his stuff. He grabs his headphones from his school backpack and retreats upstairs to his bed. I walk in to see him under his weighted blanket, headphones on, fiddling with the tag on his stuffed dog. I am both proud of him for finding a strategy that worked and sad that he’s feeling this overwhelmed because of me. I snuggle with him for a bit. We’re both quiet. I try not to cry.
I take the boys with me to work again in the afternoon. Tim comes to get Lewis and Gerry but I let Howie stay with me until we close. He spends most of the time in the quiet sensory room watching the bubble tube. We stop for french fries on the way home.
That night, they release the photos of the suspects. I watch the news for a while until Tim makes me turn it off. I fall asleep just wanting this all to be over.
It is Friday, April 19th. I wake up to my phone buzzing again. “Are you watching this?” is the Facebook message I get from a friend.
I’m fuzzy on the context of the message. Is this from last night? From this morning?
“Turn on the news.”
I do. There’s been a shoot out with the suspects. One of them is dead, one is on the run. A MIT police officer is dead. Boston and all surrounding towns are on lockdown, told to “shelter in place”. I have friends and family told to close their shades and lock their doors and not leave. I ask Tim not to go to work until it’s safe. It’s a ridiculous request as we’re miles away from what is going on but my panic level was through the roof. He gives me a look and tells me he’s going to work. I have to tell Gerry what’s going on because he has tennis camp all morning and I don’t know what kids know what information. I text a friend and ask her to take him to camp because I can’t get my act together to get everyone out of the house on time. Gerry takes his time getting ready. I hand him his SenseAbility Gym shirt to wear to tennis and he refuses, saying it’s only for when he’s at the gym with me. I scream back “It’s a FREAKING shirt. Just wear it!”
Another friend graciously takes Howie for the morning so I’m down to just one kid. Lewis and I go out for breakfast and the local news is on a constant loop of no new information.
A few hours later, Lewis and I walk down to get Howie. It’s the last day of April vacation and it’s gorgeous outside. The street is deserted, totally quiet. No kids are out playing. We aren’t one of the towns on lockdown but everyone is inside. We pick up Howie and start the walk back to our house.
In my head swirls the words that a friend posted that morning on Facebook. She wrote: “As I sit here listening to my little one playing space shuttle with his cars & (my other son) upstairs working on his pretend bookstore, I wonder what happened in those awful men’s lives that would change them from the innocent little boys they must have been. As my children’s grandparents sit in their home on lockdown hearing helicopters fly above, and so many men & women in blue are risking their lives, I will never, ever understand what could have been so important that those men felt it necessary to take innocent lives & create such chaos. Peace & love, peace & love, peace & love – it has to prevail. ♥”
And that’s where this is for me. It feels self-indulgent to write all this. None of this happened to me, to my family. There are four families who are grieving their loved ones, two hundred families changed forever by being at the right place at the wrong time. But as a parent…this is hitting my soul.
I remember feeling scared and worried on 9/11, but I wasn’t a mom then.
Everything is different. I am afraid not only for the safety of my children now but for what could happen to them in the future. How do I teach them right and wrong? How do I parent them and keep their path safe?
I watch my boys walk together down the street. They are hand-in-hand.
Their innocence is still in place even though mine is gone.
They are talking about the giant cookie that Howie made with my friend.
My anxiety wants me to keep them close. To never let them go to school, to the movies, to an outdoor event.
They make plans to eat the cookie for lunch and ride their bikes in the driveway when we get home.
I can’t let my fears eat us alive. I need to give them the tools to grow, be independent, be good people. To become the Sean Colliers of the world.
They stop at the end of the sidewalk before crossing the street. Together they recite the rules.
“Peace & love, peace & love, peace & love – it has to prevail.”
It may be the end of my innocence, but it can’t be the end of theirs.
“But I know a place where we can go
That’s still untouched by men
We’ll sit and watch the clouds roll by
And the tall grass wave in the wind
You can lay your head back on the ground
And let your hair fall all around me
Offer up your best defense
But this is the end
This is the end of the innocence” – The End Of The Innocence by Don Henley