Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Safe. We. Are.

He sits between twin little boys, maybe three, maybe four.  They are huddled together in a little pop-up camper not for warmth, but for fear.  A thunderstorm rages and cracks, just outside the canvas walls and fiberglass roof.

A typical Ohio valley summer storm, but it is after dark and that intensifies the drama.  He's seen them before, sat through them on porches and in tents and barns.  He knows it will pass.  He feels...

"Are we safe, Dad?"

"Define safe," he thinks to himself.  They are not on a high ridge, not exposed, the camper is supposed to mitigate a direct lightning hit.  The rain is hard but not coming in anywhere, the wind is gusting and the canvas, well-made and dependable, holds strong.

He knows they are afraid of the noise, the cacophony that is hard rain on a fiberglass roof; afraid of the unmuffled thunder; afraid of the foreboding lightning.  He feels they are "safe."  But they are young, they haven't spent a some fifty years weighing the odds.  They haven't come through mountain thunderstorms, too close tornadoes, roiling sailboats, blinding blizzards safely.  They are afraid because they've no evidence that they will be okay.

"Let's shove your sleeping bags and your bear and kitty into this trash bag and we'll make a run to the truck where I know we will be safe."  He grabs a towel and shoves it in as well.  He waits for a flash and a crack and runs ahead of them, throwing open the doors, and the hustle in.

They are wet and cold, even in summer the rain can seem so icy.  The boys dry off and bundle up in the blankets, hugging their little stuffed animals.  The car starts, the heat and defrost blow.  The windshield wipers clear away the sheeted rain.  They are in the middle of it.  Trees blowing, leaves and sticks fall to the pavement.  The lightning is much brighter, sharper and cleaner.  The thunder and rain are muffled better in the vehicle but still loud.

He worries that this all will scare them more and turns in his seat to assure them.  They are both smiling in wide-eyed wonder at the energy and crazy beauty of the storm.

"Thanks, Daddy, I feel safe now."

Her eyes are puffy, his nose is snotty.  A school bus approaches and two second grade boys spill out.

"Oh, God, those poor children were the same age as these boys, my sons," she thinks as they laugh and spin towards the couple.  It is a bright and pretty December day, the fourteenth, 2012.

"I can't do this," he says to her as they approach.

"We have to."

And they do, at the dining room table, inside their home, on their street, in their community.  They tell them the incomprehensible.  They speak vaguely of a crazy man, a school, boys and girls shot and killed.  They avoid words like 'slain' and 'automatic rifle' and 'Glock' and try to tell them the untellable.  They try not to cry.  They try not to break.

When they are done, when have finished saying what the had to say, they wait.

One boy says, "Are we safe.'

"Oh yes, sweetheart," she says through the tears which can no longer be dammed.  They hug their dear sons, hold them too tight, perhaps scaring the young souls in a way they may wonder about for a lifetime.  They look over the blonde heads into each others wet eyes and both wonder the same thing,  "Are we lying to them?"

Some five years later, the bus again, older boys, young men, mancubs, get off the bus.

"Hey Dad, did you hear about that crazy dude who shot a bunch of people in Las Vegas?"

"Yeah, I did.  I shoulda told you about it this morning.  I'm sorry I didn't..."

"What the frick is up with people like that?" one boy asks shaking his head.

"Yeah, I don't get it.  Who could be that, that... mean?"  The other boy this time.

They continue on in and sit at the same table, in the same dining room, on the same street, in the same community.  They talk of mental health, of evil, of gun control.  They speak of the "helpers" (thank you, Mr. Rogers) of police and firefighters and panic and - God help us - what to do in an "active shooter" situation, which they've already discussed in detail - God help us, again.  They imagine scenarios, scenes, situations and wonder how they might react.

It is a horrible and necessary conversation.

When it is over he asks, "Are you okay, boys?"

"Yeah," they sigh together, defeated, their armor cracked but somehow intact.

"Dad," one says quietly.  He hesitates, perhaps afraid to ask, afraid to be answered.  "Are we safe?"

I am silent...


  1. Can't we all as parents relate to this one....thanks for sharing. Definitely enjoy your writing. All we can do is model love....

  2. It's really tough. And though your boys are growing (as is my daughter), it's hard to ever quite grasp a time when it seems they'll be ready for the hard things the world has to throw at them. The reality is, they'll surprise us by being ready for things we didn't think they were ready for . . . and they'll also inevitably be overwhelmed by things that they're not ready for. It's part of life, I guess, being both stronger than we expect and also never strong enough for everything. It makes me start thinking about vulnerability offering its own kind of strength - not in being able to overcome everything . . . but in accepting weakness and still soldiering on.

    I guess all that's a little tangential, but I had a similar sort of conversation recently with my 7-year-old. Our car was broken into, and I struggled mightily with explaining it to her, in the context of accurately describing the situation, and yet still helping her to feel secure in her own room at night. It also made me think of alarm systems and upgraded locks and structural reinforcements . . . and also the knowledge that there's no such thing as absolute safety.

    I hear you, Bill.

    1. Thanks for visiting, Neal. It's a tough road this parenting thing. We can only do what seems best.
      Peace to you and your lovely family.