We found a babysitter.
That doesn’t sound like much of an announcement, but believe me, it is. Especially given the terror of being without my children wrought by this week’s events.
I have a hard time letting go. During Peanut’s first year, I was away from him for 10 hours. Total. I still remember each hour: dentist, bra shopping, 10k, surgery, theater. Over the next few years, only trusted friends and relatives watched him, and only an hour or two at a time. And even then, only rarely. Three times a year, maybe.
When Butter was born, we tried to get out for an hour once or twice, but he cried himself purple and I just couldn’t take it. So we stayed together unceasingly until he was almost Two. Friends tried taking the little guy for an hour or two at a time. And we paid a sitter, a well-vetted preschool teacher, to stay with both boys for part of an afternoon. Four times, total.
That was two years ago.
So to say we found a babysitter is pretty freaking huge. She has great references. Preschool teacher, summer camp counselor. Local. Loves all the things that Peanut does. Gave her a trial run and we all had fun. And we need her because on the one day a week I work at the co-op preschool, she will pick up Peanut from second grade and occupy him for two hours until I get home.
The night before her first time picking up my amazing, responsible, articulate, beautiful son, I freaked out. I wrote a long email about how, though here references are great and she promised she’s not a serial killer, I had doubts about the safety of the Universe and I really need a text when she gets him and a text when they get home.
The sitter kindly reassured me. Told me how she’s picked up kids at this school before and that she knows the ropes. Tells me she’ll text me. Tells me everything will be fine and that she does this for a living.
And she does. So okay. Trust. Breathe. Believe.
My sweet little man had our spare key on a ring in his backpack. The very thought of that violently smashes up two simultaneous thoughts: “He’s such a delightful, responsible kid, this is great for his feeling of independence;” and “OMG I’m a 1970s mom going to Jazzercise while my second grader walks home to an empty house!” The shards of my psyche that result from the idea collision kept me awake that night.
I’ve mentioned, I believe, that I don’t let go well. Also not big on perspective. Hyperbole, though? Some significant facility with that tactic.
At the designated hour on their first day together, I pull out my contraband phone and ignore the preschoolers cavorting around me for five seconds to see that I don’t have a text.
Five minutes later, nothing.
Ten minutes later, I text.
“Do you have him yet?
“Yes. Just got him. On our way home.”
[Why are you fifteen minutes late? Doesn't matter. I'll ask later.]
“Okay, home now!”
So I relax. And I smile at children and clean up after children and negotiate conflicts with children and sing with children and wonder why I’m not paying someone to do this stuff so I can go play Mancala with my eldest child.
We get home and I’m relieved. He’s happy, she’s happy. Everything is where I left it. No severed limbs, no puddles of blood, no house party.
Letting go…hard time…rather consistent theme…moving on.
I ask this wonderful creature, who has delivered unto me my seven year old, for her report of the day.
“Everything was fine. I went to the wrong door to pick him up and waited rather impatiently because there were tons of police cars and one of the parents told me there had been a lockdown but she didn’t know anything, so I walked up to another, confident looking woman and introduced myself, said I was picking up a child for the first time and what is going on?”
Having a hard time breathing, in part because my eyes are open so wide they’re sucking all the oxygen from the air and all the energy from my other muscles.
“She told me that there had been a lockdown at the school because someone had gone inside and the police were called.”
And boom, thus ended all future babysitting hopes and dreams. My children will never be out of my sight again.
Sandy Hook is geographically distant from here, but it’s not far from any American elementary school. It’s right next door to all of us.
I tried to breathe but found only hot waves of tears.
“Are you okay?” she asked, clearly concerned at my willingness to lose control of my tear ducts upon hearing about silly things like police cars and lockdowns.
I look at the stove and the fridge and the first aid kit and the fire extinguisher. And I nod. “He’s fine, you’re fine, we’re all fine, so I’m okay, but no, I’m not okay.”
“I finally figured out to go to the right door and I talked with his teacher and he didn’t seem worried that I was late. And I felt awful because you told me the right door, but all those other times I picked the kids up, we went to the other door, and…”
“I’ll ask him, but I’m sure he’s fine. I’ve been late and he knows that his teacher will make sure he’s okay. I’m more worried about the lockdown, really.”
“Well nobody knew much, and you never know if what you hear outside is rumor or truth or partial truth. So ask him. He’ll tell you.”
She left in a blur and I pretended everything was fine and casual and normal. Because I have so much practice asking my suburban, sheltered kid what happened when the sirens went screaming outside the school, right? I begin low key, because there is exactly zero benefit to freaking the kid out.
Stick to the ritual: How was your day, what was your favorite part, what was your biggest challenge and how did you address it; and by the way, what was up with the lockdown?
He shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“I don’t even really know what a lockdown is. What does it mean?”
“We were outside and the teachers all yelled, ‘Inside now,’ and pointed so we went inside and then we went back out.”
“Oh. Inside your classroom?”
“No, the cafeteria.”
“And [shrug, beat]… what did they tell you?”
“Nothing. We were trying to guess why we had to come inside and I thought maybe the police found something that a robber took.”
And now came the veteran move. Wait. Say nothing. Wait. I can always ask again later if I really need to know. But wai…
“I didn’t like it.”
“Oh?” Faking casual. “Why?” Pure liquid goo inside, wanting to kiss his face for twenty hours because he’s still alive, calculating the cost to my sense of self of homeschooling, and praying that he wasn’t scared at any point.
“Because we only came in for a few minutes and then went back out but it felt like it took away all our play time.”
“Yeah. I don’t like it when I get interrupted for a drill or an emergency or anything and then get less time to do what I want.”
We talked a bit more about his favorite part of the day, and we finished the night as usual. Face kissing limited to a few minutes so as not to reveal my secret baggage full of helpless liquid goo and fear and whatnot.
The second the boys were in bed I texted another parent to find out what happened.
The neighbors called the police when they thought they heard a gunshot. Several squad cars rushed to the scene. Some staff members saw the police and called a lockdown. *Then* they called the police to see if they should be concerned. The police reassured them that all was clear. Better safe than sorry, good job team, moving on, just another day.
What rings in my ears are the colliding voices of terror, “My baby knows what a lockdown is;” and “I won’t always be there when things get bad.” Earthquakes, bad people, fires. Tragedy. Cataclysm. You can prepare and you can hope.
But you can’t always be there.
I hate every single brushstroke of that.