I had to stop watching E.R. when I was pregnant with Ben. The September 11th attacks had just happened, and I was all too cognizant of the dangers of the world. I didn’t need to invite them into the living room.

I had to stop saying “Drive safe” to Tony when he headed off on his 45-minute commute. After a few months of the ritual, he worried how I’d fret if I missed my chance one day, how guilty I’d feel if somehow my ritual words failed to protect him.

I had to stop stepping directly in to crosswalks, insisting bodily on my right of way, when I started pushing a stroller in front of me. “You can be right,” remarked my reasonable husband, “Or you can be safe.”

I had to tell Ben last spring that a child in his preschool had died in an accident.

I had to watch yesterday, my heart in my mouth, as a mad driver swerved toward a dad walking his son into our preschool. I was a few steps back. We’d both heard the crash behind us as the driver hit a car, the squeal of the tires as he pulled away, and the scream of a police car’s siren. The siren made me feel momentarily safe, until I looked back and saw how cautious the police car was in pursuit, until I saw the other car, its front end smashed, race up the street toward us. The dad scooped his son up into his arms. I pushed Ben and our carpool companion behind me, then hustled them onto the ramp in front of the school, which is protected (somewhat) by a metal railing. Ben and his buddy were delighted; they love to run up and down that ramp after school, playing a game they call “Dong!” I kept an eye on the car–which had strangely, thankfully, swerved away from our schoolmate, roared up the street, but then u-turned and headed back toward us–as I hurried the boys into school. I was glad it was my school workday, so I didn’t have to say goodbye to the boys but could stay and play. They never knew that for a moment, for them, it hadn’t been safe.

I have to think today of all the people who weren’t safe yesterday, and hope that those who survived will heal.

I live in earthquake country. I’m a parent. I don’t need to read the paper to know, really know, that I’m not safe. I don’t dwell on it; we keep earthquake kits in the car and garage, we have an emergency plan. But I don’t much like to be reminded of it, either. When danger swerves so close, it makes me want to gather the family close and hunker down.

After 9/11, after the tragedy last spring, we gathered friends around the dinner table. Yesterday, I came home to find Tony, unaware of the news, frying tofu, boiling noodles, steaming vegetables — making a fabulous meal. I’d brought (a different) one of Ben’s preschool friends home, and she and her parents wound up staying for supper. After those scary moments earlier in the day, sharing a meal together made me feel truly safe.


  1. Mom says:

    How to react to an immediate threat is one thing; how to explain threats, or tragedies, to children is another. What are the consequences of children hearing discussions of such things, or seeing them on the television?

    When Kennedy was assassinated, we were living in a suburban community on Long Island, with two children, 2½ and 5. Our church was setting up for a big dinner party to kick off a fund-raising fair, and I’d was in the supermarket a block from home to get supplies to bake some goodies for the fair. A clerk came running out from a back room saying “Kennedy’s been shot in Dallas, Texas”. I had no idea the president wasn’t in the White House, and couldn’t believe what was said, so I collected what I needed, checked out, and walked home with my shopping cart full.

    And turned on the TV.

    I think it probably stayed on four full days: the dinner and fair were cancelled, and a memorial service held on the Friday evening. Ours was the only Church in town that held one, but it was on the way towards the residential section, and had glass doors so passersby could see what was going on. It was packed, and not just with members.

    I can remember staying with the children, and probably fed and put them to bed and got them up again at appropriate times, and I probably answered questions, as well as I could. But still, we all seemed glued to the TV. The assassination took place on a Friday. On Sunday, I was again watching when Oswald was being transferred from the jail, and saw the shooting by Jack Ruby. And when the State Funeral took place, again, we were watching, especially Caroline and John-John, standing with their mother on the steps of St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington.

    Months, years later, the child who’d been 2½ at the time didn’t want to go to bed, or to sleep.

    Was this a delayed result of my lack of judgment in letting the children watch as much as they did?

  2. Rob Rushing says:

    We read about that mad driver this morning–but it was one of those stories that seem so unreal, they couldn’t possibly affect someone you know. Now I know better–and very glad to know you’re safe.