They say that when a butterfly flaps his wings a hurricane is formed on the other side of the world. I never believed that such a small occurrence so seemingly far removed could cause damage, but it does. Tragedy and pain are rarely contained to the person and family within which they exist, there is always collateral damage.
He comes down the stairs and my heart lurches into my throat. I told him to dress warm, it’s 10 degrees outside. He did but he grabbed his school sweatshirt. My brain immediately starts whirring. Do I ask him to change? He’ll ask “Why?” and it will be a big deal. Maybe it won’t matter; it’s small, just on the chest pocket so maybe no one will notice. We’re going to an affluent area, a children’s museum. No one would say anything to a child would they? I’m more worried of whispers and people talking where he may overhear. I push it aside and ignore the sweatshirt.
They’re fighting, again. Over and over and over, nit picking here and there. She’s crying. It doesn’t take much these days to bring them to tears. He’s brooding this morning and I work hard to coax words out of his almost preteen angst. He’s sad, he’s angry. “Oh no mom, not about that! So and so says I’m mean.” He’s complaining about something that happened years ago in first grade. I sigh. We talk about how everyone is hurting, how sometimes hurt looks angry and doesn’t make sense. How we lash out at who’s here because we can’t lash out at those that are gone.
The two-year-old has regressed, a lot. Tantrums are plentiful and she resorts to baby words and tears instead of communicating. She’s our sponge. Since she was a baby she was empathetic to those around her, crying when others cry. She’s soaking up all the emotions around her and her little body doesn’t know what to do with it. She has no understanding of death or tragedy, she can’t understand why mom and dad are stressed and talk in hushed whispered. She’s not used to seeing her big brother cry.
It should have been a cheerful Sunday with all the school children dressed up and singing. We were kicking off a celebration of Christian Education! But the faces are worn, the smiles are stiff and the eyes are puffy and red. We are here, but we are hurting.
The damage ripples out from the core, from where the stone was thrown. I always knew that when tragedy hits the damage is rarely contained to the family, the spot, the place of it. I knew it spread, but I guess I didn’t realize how much, how fast and how impactful it could be. I stopped reading the news after Sandy Hook. Too much bad news, too much for a mother to read and not take to heart. I’m not living in those stories and realizing that you can’t hide from evil, from violence. You can’t move to a good enough suburb, or a small enough school. Evil, pain, bad news, however you want to call it, is everywhere.
People, our children are hurting. Everyone has ideas and answers on how to fix it (less TV, less games, more face-to-face, more books, more art, more family time) but you can see from the headlines that it’s widespread. It’s teens and children, college students, and high schoolers; in their homes, in malls, in schools. They are lashing out in violent ways and we need to figure out why.
Collateral Damage from witnessing their own traumas, from perceived injustices, from real or imagined neglect. It goes beyond conversations of guns and mental health which are both conversations we have to be having. It goes deeper, into the souls of our children. Childhood used to be a time of carefree play delighting in lack of responsibility and exploring all that the world had to offer. Clearly our children are hurting, becoming the collateral damage of a society that can’t figure it out.
I don’t know what it is. I don’t know how to fix it. I’m just a mom who is trying to explain death, murder, grief and loss to children who should be thinking about LEGOs and Unicorns. I’m a suburban mom who thought we were in a safe area, a good area, that’s now grappling with the reality that there is no safe place. I’m now just another mom, who’s trying to minimize the collateral damage of unnecessary unexplained violence while wondering how we can change. How we, not just as a family but also as a community, can move forward. How we can learn to act in love and not in hate, anger or violence.
I’m standing here shell shocked knowing that this much is true: I will love my children fiercely and I will protect them the best I can. I will teach them to love, to talk, to work through their feelings and issues and to pray. We will pray as a family. I will pray as a mother. I will pray for peace, for love, for hope and healing. For all the children everywhere to know that it gets better, and that there is help. They just have to reach out so that they don’t end up as collateral damage to another tragedy.