I have been your mother for four years and 15 days, and every one of those days I have considered the countless ways that you might die. This, I am told by my therapist, is common. It is a condition called motherhood, and there is no cure.
These fears began long before I gave birth to you. For the first three months of our pregnancy, I lifted up the bed covers each morning searching for stained sheets; the possibility of miscarrying you was always looming even as I watched you grow from the size of a lemon to a grapefruit and finally to a watermelon. I found daily comfort in your kicks, noting each movement of your teeny body from inside of my expanding one. If you stayed too still for too long, I'd nudge below my ribs and wait for you to roll over annoyed. I didn't drink, smoke, or lift anything heavier than a yoga mat; if I could ensure my own health and safety, I was certain I could ensure yours.
But now I know that is not true. My job, as your mother, is to protect you and I no longer know how. When I was a little girl my mother used to tell me not to talk to strangers and that was how she kept me safe; her mother would tell her to come home before it was dark outside and that is how she kept her safe. But now, my sweet child, there are no rules that I can give you, no places I can hide you to make sure that you get one more day with me. I cannot be with you every moment; I cannot shield you from pain or the people that cause it and nothing has ever broken my heart more than that realization.
In the four years since you were born the mass shootings and acts of terror occur so frequently that there is not enough time to mourn the innocent lives lost before the next headline and hash tag comes along. I feel stuck in a perpetual state of shock and sadness and I hide that from you because I don't want you to know how scary this world is and how scared I am of it.
Instead, each morning when I walk you to school, I hold your hand tightly as we cross the street and when I say goodbye I hug you for two beats more than you'd like. I look into your eyes and I ask you if you know how much I love you and some days you tell me to the moon and other days you hold out your arms as wide as you can to show me that I love you as much as your small arms can reach. As I walk away from you I comfort myself with that thought; you know how much you are loved.
When I hear an ambulance siren sound, I have to stop myself from picturing you hiding under your teacher's desk like you were taught to do if an armed and dangerous person ever entered your classroom. They told you it was called an emergency drill instead of an active shooter drill because, my darling, no one quite knows yet when or how to tell a child that we live in a World where someone might want to harm them.
Each minute that you and I are apart, wherever I am and whatever I am doing, I worry for you. I think of all of the ways you can be taken from me and I hear the stories on the news of one child and another and another that doesn't get to come home. Being a mother in this World makes it very hard to breathe. But still, I keep on breathing, because survival is a symptom of this condition called motherhood. And after a day like yesterday, this is all I can do to survive the madness, the never-ending tragedies.
I pick you up in my arms, even though you're too big now. I ask you how your day was and I hold on to every last detail, absorbing each silly word you say. I exhaust myself to make you a healthy intricate dinner even though I know within minutes you will try to negotiate how many bites you have to finish before you can have a treat. I run a warm bath for you and marvel at the fact that you're old enough now not to need help getting in or out and I smile to myself when you politely ask for some privacy. I put you in pajamas that are still warm from the dryer and I let you pick out two books before bed, three if you say please. When your eyes are closed and your whole body is wrapped around my waist, I place my hand on your chest and meditate to the sound your little heart beating. You're already asleep when I start to cry and tell you how sorry I am that this is the World I've brought you into. I lie awake next to you until the sun starts to creep in from the cracks in the curtains. In the morning when you wake up, you give me a smile and ask for a kiss before begging me to make you breakfast in bed. I tell you of course I will and then I look you in the eyes and hold your hands in mine and tell you that I love you this much, and that I am grateful to have been your mother for these past four years and sixteen days.