Sheltering our children
I made it a point on Friday to make sure I was home in time to see the school bus arrive and for my Kindergarten-age son to step off. I hugged him a bit longer and a bit tighter than usual, and picked him up as he exclaimed that he’s now taller than me. We looked at our tall shadows and made gestures that made it seem like our shadows were bumping into each other.
Before long, on the way from the bus-stop to our house, I put him down. I can’t hold on to him forever.
From the information I’ve gathered through the news media, my town isn’t that much unlike Newtown, Connecticut. It’s somewhat rural, has a close-knit community (many children who grew up here have stayed to raise their own families here), and lies in relative obscurity in the shadow of much larger population-centers. It is regarded as safe, and a great place to raise a family.
Jay’s elementary school is built in a wooded hillside. I know that the kids, in addition to the fire drills that I grew up with, have practiced lockdown drills and even “bear drills” during outside recess. These drills are routine, and are meant to trigger an automatic response when the kids are alerted to such a situation; however, the “situation” is defined by a bell or an announcement. They aren’t told what actual circumstance might lead to such an event, as those things could scare the children. They are being sheltered from the perils of society, you may say.
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When I was diagnosed with diabetes, I don’t remember being told words like “forever” or “rest of your life”. I don’t even remember someone promising a “cure”. It doesn’t mean those words weren’t necessarily said, but that my seven-year-old brain just didn’t remember them. What I do remember is my father telling me that, in rare cases, it goes away. It usually doesn’t and that I shouldn’t get my hopes up, however. Nevertheless, I was determined that I would beat the odds; that if I willed it hard enough and strong enough, that my diabetes would go away. My body had never let me down before. I’m not sure when I eventually gave up hope, but like the spirits of someone who just bought a Powerball ticket, at the moment they were uplifted.
I don’t fault my father for telling me that. To a seven-year-old, the concept of “rest-of-your-life” is not an easy one to understand. With that statement, he gave me hope; he gave me an indefinite lottery ticket that would not be deemed a loser after the Wednesday night drawing.
In a sense, what he did was shelter me. He sheltered me from the thought that I was doomed for the rest of my life, even though he may have believed that himself. In the time that followed, I carried out the rituals of diabetes-management on an automatic, instinct basis. Like the elementary school children being trained to act on the various types of drills, I didn’t know the reasons or the consequences for what I did, I just knew that before dinner I needed to pee in a cup and then put a few drops in a test tube. I was unaware of the reality and the severity of the disease.
* * *
These days, I read lots of blogs by parents of children with diabetes. I see the gradual shift of responsibility of checking blood sugars, determining boluses, and so on from parent to child. I recognize the reluctance and hesitation that goes along with that. As a parent slowly steps away, so does a layer of protection that blankets the child. It’s a necessity of life, and it’s part of growing up. But relinquishing control can be a scary thing. To those of you who have done this, are doing this, or will be doing this, I share in your anxiety.
From reading the comments on one of my posts last week, there are some PWD’s who were taken snugly under the wings of their parents during their childhood. Others were tasked with the responsibilities of taking care of their diabetes from the start. I can’t give an answer to which is better for the growing child, just as I can’t seem to answer any questions that have arisen in the last few days. I do believe, though, that it is easier on the parent to closely shelter the child and make sure are safe from harm. But of course, even that is not infallible. We can do everything within our power to shelter and protect our children, but sometimes bad things happen. Awful things. Inexplicable things.
By the time you read this, my son will have boarded the school bus on Monday morning, and I’ll be powerless. I’ll hope the driver gets him safely to school and, at the end of the day, that he can safely drive him home. But between the hours of eight and three, I have absolutely no control over what happens. None. I can only hope that his day is fun and educational, but non-eventful. Right now, he knows nothing about what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary on Friday, and I have no plans on telling him. He worries easily. I want to keep him young and innocent for as long as I can.
* * *
On Saturday evening, I was driving the family home and thinking about what I would write in this blog post. The radio was on, and as is often happens this time of year, the song “Do They Know it’s Christmas,” the charitable anthem by the musical conglomerate Band Aid was playing. It was just background noise drowning out the engine, and I didn’t give it much thought until I heard the part where Bono belts out a most profound and uncomfortable lyric:
“Well, tonight thank God it’s them instead of you”
(This is the point where I sit dumbfounded for half an hour, drafting paragraphs then deleting them, because I have absolutely no idea what to write next. The lyric seems so inappropriately appropriate at this particular moment. Hugging my child so tightly; expressing my joy at his descent from the school bus steps; it all seems so…. wrong. Perhaps I’d best just move on.)
* * *
Though we do our best, sometimes we just can’t protect our kids from everything. But we’ll never stop trying.
And we’ll never forget the awful tragedy that happened last Friday. It was needless and heartless. My deepest sympathies are with the entire population of Newtown, and for people everywhere who have been shaken by this awful, awful thing.
* * *
At our family’s Friday night children’s service at one of the local synagogues, we said our traditional blessing for the children, as is done at every service. The Rabbi noted how today was different (the kids thought it was because of Hanukkah) and predicted we would “hold our children just a little closer — no – a lot closer — this time.”. Sometimes, that’s all we can do.