Risks I Never Imagined

I did not plan on this.

There’s a quote from Elizabeth Stone which goes, ““Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”

This is truth.

Parenting is a lesson in not having control. For the most part, this is a good lesson to learn. Letting go, being in the moment, not sweating the small stuff; these are all lessons I’ve learned as a parent, and I’m grateful for them.

The dark side of this is YOU ARE NOT IN CONTROL. Of anything, really.

There are the little risks that you can mitigate, to a degree, through proper care. Like, your kid might choke to death, or accidentally drink poison, or scald themselves with hot water. So you cut their food into tiny bites, and put household cleaners and prescription drugs out of reach, and lower the thermostat on your water heater to below 120 degrees.

There are the life risks. Like maybe your kid isn’t the most popular child, or s/he really wants to play a sport for which they no talent, or they don’t get that part in the play they tried out for. Learning that we can’t stop our children from getting hurt is a hard lesson for parents and kids, but all part of helping kids learn to be self sufficient.

Then there are the “act of God” risks. Your kid could get hit by a car. Or get a cancer and die. Or be terribly unlucky as a teenager, when doing stupid things is seemingly programmed into the DNA of the species. Those are the risks that you push away at night when you can’t sleep, and why a lot of parents just can’t watch movies with children in true peril; it’s unbearable to think about.

But of all the risks I prepared myself for when I became a parent, worrying about if my kids are going to be gunned down in cold blood while they are at school wasn’t one.

I had my first child in a post-Columbine world, but it was still such a shocking event, considered so abnormal, that I never dreamed that it would enter my list of “Things I Need to Worry About As A Mom.”

It’s on there now.

As of right now, there have been 25 fatal school shootings in America since Columbine—122 children and teachers whose lives were snuffed out, just like that. Not by an act of God, not as part of a life lesson, but by a lack of care from every single American who believes that their right to “bear arms” should include semi-automatic and fully automatic weaponry with no other purpose than mass slaughter.

Think about the facts: There are now more guns in our country than there people.  More than 22 million children live in homes with a firearm. Yet only 54% of gun owners with children under the age of 18 say they lock up their guns.

So you do the math. Kids—kids who are hurting, who are still developing decision making skills, who see violence glamorized in our society every day, who are seemingly in despair as never before—have access to guns. What do we think is going to happen?

I never thought when I had children that they would one day be more likely to be gunned down in their school—the place they go to learn and be safe—than they would crossing the street to get there. That’s a risk I’m just not willing to accept—because it isn’t an act of God, it’s an act of violence, and one it is in our power to prevent.

So stop sending your thoughts and prayers. I demand action and change. Because the list of things that keep me up at night is long enough, dammit, and I have three pieces of my heart walking around every day, going to school.

The “New” Facts of Life

I didn’t learn the “facts of life” until I was 12 years old. Riding in the car with my parents one day, I suddenly thought to ask, “Wait, how do babies get in the woman’s stomach?” That was an eye-opening discussion. Even more eye-opening was the medical encyclopedia my mom handed me, which had a lot more detail than I think she planned (especially the abnormal psychology section).

Mechanics aside, the message remained the same — sex is mostly about procreation, and something you do with the person you are married to. I still remember the summer after I graduated high school. I was going to my boyfriend’s house for the weekend. My mom said, “I hope you’re saving yourself for marriage.” I just looked at her; ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies worked well for us for a long time.

But that was a different time. Nearly two generations ago, because I’m old, and my spawn could be my grandchildren. My husband and I thought long and hard about what we tell them about the Facts of Life. Here are the five facts we’ve come up with that I am pretty sure are unpopular with most other parents:

  1. Sex Will Dominate Your Thoughts; Don’t Let It Dominate Your Actions — I remember puberty hitting like a ton of bricks. I hear it’s worse for boys. Suddenly, I had all of these … feelings. Emotions, sure, but I’m talking physical feelings and drives and needs. I want my kids to understand and acknowledge those feelings, so they can master them. Don’t be the kids in my school who were “swept away by passion” and ended up getting pregnant.
  2. You Don’t Have to Be in Love to Have Sex –– I don’t want my kids to wait until they’re married to experience sex for a whole host of reasons, not least the fact that I think they should be older when they get married and make the decision based on who they want to spend their life with, not because they need to get laid. And I’ve lived enough life that it would be hypocritical for me to try to tell them that you have to be in love to have sex. I know better. Sex is fun and great and healthy and feels good. But, sex has consequences. You should at least like and respect the person you sleep with, because of rule number three…
  3. Don’t Sleep With Anyone You Aren’t Willing To Be Connected To Forever — Sounds counterintuitive to number two, but here’s where safety comes into play. Sex is a risky act. Condoms break, birth control fails. If you are going to be intimate with someone, be sure it’s someone you can be connected to forever if you must. (And yeah, that opens up a pretty intense conversation with the spawn.)
  4. Never Trust Anyone but Yourself with Birth Control and Disease Prevention — You don’t want a baby? You, yourself, must use a condom/take the pill/insert a diaphragm/whatever. You don’t want to die a horrible death? Practice safe sex every time, all of the time. I think this is probably a hard one for teenagers, who naturally believe they are immune to danger. I am quite certain they will take stupid risks, just like every teenager ever. I can only hope they get lucky and the risks are few. Meanwhile, my husband and I will be “those parents” who buy condoms along with the toothpaste and shampoo, and stock the bathroom shelves.
  5. As in All Things, Respect is Key — Respect for yourself. Respect for your partner. Respect for your body. For my boys, it’s about telling them that they need to listen the girls they are with. Is she enthusiastic? Is she initiating? Remember Rule #1, and don’t let your hormones make you a jerk. And also, just because you’re a boy, doesn’t mean you have to perform or be pressured into doing anything you aren’t comfortable with. For my daughter, it’s basically the same message, with an added dollop of “not everyone was raised right so here’s what to beware of.”

Of course, we are just now hitting the teenage years and puberty. Maybe we’ll feel differently about this open attitude towards sex when our spawn start dating (or hanging out, or hooking up, or whatever the heck it is they do now). But I don’t think so. Because to me, this is how things have always been and should have been; society has finally just caught up to a place where my kids don’t feel as if they don’t have to tell me any lies.