A letter written after a terrible shooting:
Dear people in my facebook feed whose first inclination, after hearing about the Colorado movie theater shooting, was to bash the parents who dared bring their children to a midnight showing of a Batman movie,
My son Jack was born on a gorgeous spring day in 2008. From that day to this I have loved him like the sun and moon and stars. I’d say that if you divided my life into categories of tasks that I have performed since then, you would note that roughly 90% of them have been done in service of him, and later, his brother. I’m talking of literal, direct-benefit tasks here, too – tasks like wiping mouths and washing diapers and administering time out and spooning gloppy pureed foods through their pursed baby lips. There are other tasks with less direct benefit to my children that still bring them benefit – like going to law school and getting a professional job that (along with their father’s salary) brings home enough bacon that Jack can have all the speech therapy he needs, and Liam can wear through as many pairs of shoes as his little heart desires, and they can both eventually pick a college or vocational program that gives them the career training and education that they need. I’m more responsible, and more settled, more conservative in my life choices, more scheduled, because that is what I feel is required of me, in service of them. I love both of my boys, and I happily sublimate my desires to meet their needs, on a daily, nay hourly, nay minute-ly basis.
For one thousand, five hundred and forty six days, I have been an indentured servant, a (mostly) joyful handmaiden working in the service of two tiny masters.
I didn’t take my kid to a midnight showing of a Batman movie – he wouldn’t have liked it, we wouldn’t have been able to stay, he’d have cried. But let’s pretend I did. Let’s ignore the crime that occurred last night, the mass murder. Let’s just pretend I was in another movie theater, in another city, where people went, watched, drove home at the end, went to bed, maybe couldn’t sleep because they were a little jazzed by the movie, maybe fell right into bed, exhausted.
When I took my kid – 3 months, 6 years, 9 years, however old – and sat him in the seat next to me, popcorn on his knees – all you’d see is a mom in a theater, watching a non-kid’s movie four hours past my kid’s bedtime. You wouldn’t see that for sixty nights in a row, I have gently, firmly, repeatedly told him that he must eat everything on his plate. You wouldn’t have seen how many times he asks me during any given meal whether the food on his fork will choke him. How many bites he has to eat before he can get down. Whether he can get down now. Can he please be excused? What is this food? He likes/doesn’t like this food. He thinks this food is sooooo tasty, mama. This food is yellow, and this one is red, and this piece looks like a ‘R’! You do not observe how he says anything that comes to mind, anything that will keep him from putting it into his mouth, chewing it up, and swallowing it, and for a half hour for pretty much every meal time for sixty days – let’s conservatively put that at sixty hours over the last two months – his father and I have worked our way through all of these questions and evasive maneuvers and forced him to eat every bite on his plate. Today at lunch, I will do it again, and again tonight at dinner, and again tomorrow at lunch, and again tomorrow at dinner, and again and again and again, until he stops this behavior, at which point no doubt his brother will pick it up.
You wouldn’t see that for the last seven hundred and sixty five nights, almost without fail, I have pulled myself out of bed at least once in the wee hours to greet a sobbing Liam, to manage whatever needs managing, to make decisions at that bleary hour about what to do with him – firmly return him to bed? Cuddle? Climb in with him? Sometimes I fetch juice, sometimes I change a diaper, sometimes I ignore him and wait for him to soothe himself. Seven hundred and sixty five nights in a row.
You wouldn’t see that in the half hour it took me to write this post, I was interrupted seventeen times (so far). Once, it was by my four year old shouting from across the house – “Mama! I need you!” And I put my computer down and paused my thought (hard to do, mid-self-righteous rant), and went to him, and said (a little exasperated) “WHAT, Jack,” and he said “I want to have a dinosaur tooth that fits in my mouth.” For this nonsensical, non-emergency comment was my biting commentary interrupted. Lather, rinse, and repeat fifty seven million times per day, every day, for one thousand, five hundred and forty six days.
A smug, judgmental, self-satisfied comment like “being a parent means putting your child’s needs before yours” is absolutely meaningless when you aren’t a parent. And if you want to look at anyone’s parenting and comment on it, you’d better look at the whole context. Look at the movie in the context of six months of enforced on-time bedtime, of making the kid clean her plate. Of a decade of spending most of your dollars on Claire’s accessories and band camp. Look at the movie in the context of years.
I can imagine deciding to give your 9 year old a special treat, a daddy daughter date, a Special Event. I can imagine possibly having a babysitter lined up for your 6 year old so that you can take your teenager to his favorite movie – maybe a reward for good grades, or for helping around the house – and then the babysitter cancels and you decide that the harm to your 6 year old wouldn’t be indelible, if you took him along. I can see a new mother, depressed and bewildered and still broken from the trauma of delivery, deciding to join her friends (who she hasn’t seen for three months) to watch a movie, tensed all the way through lest the baby cry and she have to leave. Or a spouse, knowing Mom needs a night of good sleep, deciding to take the baby to a movie and get him out of Mom’s hair.
Can’t you? Can’t you at least try to imagine what it’s like to inhabit another person’s struggles before flaming a grieving parent, even in a comment that the parent will never read? It’s no skin off my nose if you can’t. But it would be a nicer world if you would try.