It’s our job to help others in times of troublePublished 2:58pm Saturday, April 20, 2013
Column: Pass the Hot Dish, by Alexandra Kloster
This job, parenthood, keeps changing. Its description doesn’t grow so much as it focuses. At first I was happy if, at the end of the day, I had two fed, clothed, fairly clean, breathing children. I wasn’t thinking about five or 15 years from now. Some nights I went to bed without even thinking about tomorrow.
But things happen, things that force me to consider the future and confront the present as it is, not as I wish it were. That’s not easy for me. I enjoy my idealized, romanticized vision of the past even though I know it’s not real. I’m comfortable in the unreality of my reality. I like to fold time in on itself making today, yesterday and tomorrow into a neat little box that I can fill with the good old days.
It’s a safe haven, a refuge, an escape from all the things that worry me about the real world. Lately, though, I’m learning that while the past is a great place to visit, it’s nowhere to raise children.
When I heard about the Boston Marathon bombings last week, I got scared. An attack of such an arbitrary nature where someone simply chooses a celebratory gathering full of innocents and stabs it in the heart sent me into a panic. I started thinking about all the places I should avoid. Professional sports venues, theme parks, tourist attractions, I wouldn’t go near any potential target. In that moment, the whole country seemed like a target.
I sat in my living room and systematically began making my children’s lives smaller and, in my mind, safer. It was my job to protect them, but I didn’t feel safe. I felt sick. Was I building a wall around them because I was afraid of the world into which they were born? I imagined myself telling them about experiences instead of letting them have experiences and showing them pictures of places I would never take them.
That most certainly was not my job.
It’s not my job to tell them about a past that never really existed and make them long for a time they never knew. This is their time, and it’s the only one they’ve got. All children perceive the world at first through the prism of their parents’ attitude toward it. We have to decide whether we’ll cast shadows or shine. It’s not our job to be scared. It’s our job to help them be brave.
But I need help. I need hope.
The only part of the attack in Boston that wasn’t shocking was the response. It wasn’t a bit surprising to see police and firefighters running through the streets carrying children in their arms or paramedics wheeling the wounded out of the fray. It wasn’t surprising to see runners finishing the race they’d started in friendly competition now united in one Bostonian giant middle finger to whoever was responsible for killing and maiming their people, our people.
While media outlets, bloggers and people sitting around at home speculated about who the attackers were, the people in the mess that had hours before been the Boston Marathon were acting.
It reminded me of what New England Patriots coach, Bill Belichick, tells his players, “Do your job.” The people in Boston were doing their job. They were helping each other because if we’ve learned anything in the past 12 years it’s that when we are attacked, helping others is our job.
All of that helped me. I was sitting in my comfortable house with my healthy family in relative safety, and those who were suffering in chaos and misery helped — me. That’s when I realized that the best gift I could give Gertie and Clara was to show them the good things that happen every day right alongside the bad things and not drag them into the glorified past with me.
The job description for parenthood should be written in pencil and come with a huge eraser because it’s always evolving. What I need to know today isn’t necessarily what I will need to know tomorrow, but I do know this — my job is not to raise my daughters in a world of my imagination but in the world as it is. Only then will they have the courage to change it.
Woodbury resident Alexandra Kloster appears each Sunday. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and her blog is at alexandrakloster.com.