I got an e-mail earlier this week that said Zuzu's daycare was under lockdown.
I think my heart stopped. I know I skimmed the e-mail, searching frantically for the word "drill" and then read it again, slowly, when that word did not appear.
There weren't a lot of details except that everyone at the daycare was safe and no one was injured.
My first impulse was to flee my office, speed to the daycare, grab Zuzu, and take her home with me. Where we would hibernate indefinitely. Then some rational part of my brain decided that if there was some crazy person on the loose, she was probably safer napping in her secure daycare center than she would be walking out with me to my car in the parking lot. I still left work early, though I didn't rush immediately to my car.
About an hour later, as I was on my way to pick her up, we got an e-mail saying the lockdown was lifted and police had assured the director of the center that the area was clear.
It turns out that someone was shot just a couple of blocks away from the daycare center--a teenager who is a student at the high school that sits across the street from the daycare. The victim was shot in the ankle and survived. This is good news, obviously, but there are so many unanswered questions about WHY it happened and exactly WHERE it happened (two blocks away, yes, but was it on the main thoroughfare or on the small side street that the daycare and high school face?). And--most terrifying--could it happen again?
I felt emotional when I dropped her off at daycare the next morning. I was actually more emotional than I'd been the night before, when I just mostly relieved that everything at the daycare was okay. I worried that I was putting her in harm's way, that I wouldn't be there if something happened to her.
I know that we live in the city and these things happen in cities, but I also thought this part of the city was safe. The high school is a magnet school that emphasizes science and mathematics (I go to the Robotics Team's car wash there). Her daycare shares a parking lot with a food share co-op! It's just a few blocks from Italian restaurants and coffee shops where people sit outside. A granite and marble countertop store sits on the corner where the student was shot. It's not Whole Foods and Starbucks land, but it's not scary. When I talked to David in the afternoon, trying to explain the anxiety I was still feeling, he said something like, "Listen, this could happen anywhere."
I know he was trying to make me feel better, but that's exactly the problem. It could happen ANYWHERE. I'm not worried about her daycare specifically. I think the director handled the situation well, and I'm confident that she is in good hands there.
The thing that scares me is that it's a loud and undeniable reminder that I can't keep her safe all the time. That no matter where we are, whether she's with me or with someone else, terrible things could happen that would be totally out of my control.
I can be rational and logical and recognize the statistical probability of this, that, or other things happening, I know that suburbs and small towns can be just as dangerous as cities, I know that the chances of something happening to her are actually very, very slim, but that doesn't change the visceral reaction of acute terror when I think about her being in danger and me being helpless to fix it.
I think all parents must feel this to some extent--I know lots of moms talk about the vulnerability of having someone you love more than life itself just out there, walking around in the world, out of your immediate protection. But it felt extra complicated for me because the anxiety that welled up inside me, that made my stomach hurt and my chest tight and my head cloudy, was JUST LIKE the anxiety I felt in the early days and weeks and months after Eliza died.
I was so convinced for a while there that David was going to die in a car accident on his way to or from work. He would text me every day when he got to work because I couldn't stop worrying. I was convinced that the worst would happen because the worst DID happen. If I lost a baby I thought was healthy during what was supposed to be a low-risk pregnancy, then how could David possibly survive the risk of a forty-minute commute every morning?
My logic wasn't perfect, but it didn't matter. My fear was fierce and unshakable.
I still have those fears, of course, of losing the people I love. I know that we ALL have those fears, and most of the time we're able to tamp them down enough that we can not only function but allow ourselves to enjoy life without being burdened by fears of griefs to come.
But when I dropped her off at daycare yesterday and walked out to my car alone, all those fears came right up to the surface, clawing their way to the forefront of my consciousness and refusing to settle down quietly.
The day was totally uneventful in terms of shootings I'm aware of, and mind-numbing in terms of faculty meetings I attended, but I still felt like my brain was both unfocused and on high alert. When Zuzu and I got home, I just didn't want to let go of her. I turned on PBS and snuggled up to her on the couch and soaked her up while Daniel Tiger and Prince Wednesday used the potty. I breathed in her wispy hair and the toddler-after-daycare smell and kissed her as much as I could and held her chubby, sweet little hand and said, "Mama will keep you safe."
It's a promise I haven't always been able to keep. I couldn't keep Eliza safe, and that will probably never stop haunting me. It's a promise I might not be able to keep in a future I can't see, in a world I can't control. But it is a promise I make because I'm her mama, and it's the most important thing I'll ever try to do.
And she looked at me, pointed at the TV, and said, "Poop?", effectively changing the subject to how AWESOME it is to pee pee and poop on the potty.
I'm not sure she was totally convinced about how awesome the potty is (though Daniel Tiger did his best to sell it), but I do think that she feels safe at home and at daycare. And so we do the best that we can do to tamp the fear back down and remember that it's okay and maybe even essential to celebrate what we have, even if we know how quickly it could disappear.
A friend wrote about a poem that helped her find a sense of calm at the end of that scary day, and as I thought about my fear and my happiness and my effort to not be suffocated by "the forethought of grief," I found myself repeating a line from another poem ("A Brief for the Defense" by Jack Gilbert) that continually reminds me of how to be grateful when things are really scary:
We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world.