The fears of being a Chicago parent, right now

We watched the news on Saturday morning. Sometimes we do, as the kids run around and we drink our coffee. But usually I don’t, mostly because I’d rather read my news and if that makes me sound like a news snob, then I guess I’m a news snob. But more than that, it’s because television news is a compression of all the awful.

Within ten minutes this past Saturday, there was a story about ISIS coming to Chicago. Two stories about young children, killed by gunfire. More trouble and heartbreak out of Ferguson. And then, as if the producers knew that my soul was crying and I wanted to throw up, they ran a video of a little girl, frosting around her mouth, who won’t admit she just ate a cupcake. They cut back to the anchor, after rolling the clip, and she had frosting around her mouth, too.

All I wanted to do was scream because it was the cheapest of tricks, a momentary distraction from everything I was just subjected to.

Whenever people share the latest atrocity on Facebook, they say, “It’s a good day to hug your kids a little bit tighter.” As if any of us need the reminder. As if that isn’t our first impulse, to go find our kids, partners or total strangers and just hold them.

This feels like the world we live in lately. One where anything I supply to my children feels like it is not enough. How can I possibly hope to protect my children in a world where people — for reasons that I truly, deeply do not understand — cut off the head of a journalist? Where three-year olds are shot in the street. How can these things happen? When did the world get like this?

When I was growing up, my fears were both personal and abstract. My family went through a period where my father didn’t work. Nothing much changed. We didn’t lose our house. Dinners weren’t that different. They tried to shield me from their worries, but that was impossible. Because their worry was thick and ever-present, a solid fog that floated and clogged the air we breathed.

We didn’t have terrorism. We had the promise of nuclear war. Movies were post-apocalyptic fever dreams that gave me nightmares, even if I couldn’t say, really and truly, that I ever thought it would happen. But the fear of it was like the pressure of a chair on your back when you sit at your desk. Sometimes you notice. Sometimes you don’t. Either way, it’s always there.

Lately, I think of my three boys — young and innocent and still shiny new — and worry what the world will do to them. This kind of worry is new for me. I don’t want to just hug them a little tighter. I want to grab onto them and not let them go. Even though I know my hugs would be inadequate, nothing more than a balm for my fear.

I used to joke, that I would do the best I could with my kids and hoped to screw them up in an entirely new and different way than I’m screwed up. But lately, that joke isn’t so funny anymore.

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