Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Paranoia of a Mother

Being a mother makes me paranoid in a way I never expected. Every grandma, car, or dog we pass on the street is a potential enemy, and I keep my fangs ready to attack if necessary. That sweet faced blond college girl texting behind the wheel of her Prius? She's better stop long before the stop sign or I will scream bloody murder until I wake her out of her iPhone stupor. That lanky teenager hunched atop his skateboard careening down the sidewalk? Don't even dare swerve toward my baby in her stroller because I'll kick a rock in front of his wheels before he can say narly. That grandma walking her pitbull? Yeah, you'd better believe I'm going to cross the street because I don't want to have to try to pry that dog's jaws off of my baby's neck.

As if the everyday encounters weren't enough, I go looking for trouble. I scour the papers and read up on every abduction, every murder, every accident involving a child. I could not stop myself from reading every article on Leiby Kletzky, the Newtown massacre, Jaycee Dugard, you name it. I scour the stories of the incidents, the reactions of their family and friends, their funerals.

Every time I read about one of these kids, my teeth clench. I start rubbing my forehead and feel my chest tighten. I cry for them, their parents, their siblings. I jab my husband lying next to me reading some technical manual (if such things can be read) and say, "Can you believe this? Can you imagine something like this happening to us?"

"No, no, I can't" is always my husband's whisper of a response. As I rant on, he asks how I find this stuff -- and why am I always reading such stories?

I'm drawn to them. Somewhat curious, perhaps, and completely horrified. But I want to know. Where were the parents? What did the parents do or not do? And most importantly, what did the predator do? It's not just morbid curiosity. I feel as if we have to prepare. What IF something like this were to happen to us? What IF? And how can we prevent it? Who are these monsters? How do they think? What is their m.o.?

We have to come up with a plan of action. We have to know our enemies.

I imagine how I would react. What would I do if something unthinkable were to happen? If someone were to break into our house, how would I fight back? Would we bonk him with our $2 flashlight? I'm poorly equipped with not even a single martial arts class, barely an hour of self defense lesson. I've had fleeting thoughts about whether I need to equip myself with the proper tools.

We have perfectly rational friends, those with higher degrees, sensible and thoughtful people, without even a splotch of red on their necks -- those who seem like one of us -- arm themselves. "What, you bought a gun? You're willing to kill someone with that thing?" And they always respond, "Well, if I have to..."

One friend who is considering buying a gun has two beautiful daughters. Not yet teens. They are breathtakingly beautiful, sweet, and so, so innocent. Our friend wants a gun to protect her daughters. "What if some asshole tries to hurt one of them? I'm going to take that motherfucker out." She is tiny, our friend. Always with a smile on her face. And she loves babies. All babies. I can't even imagine her with a gun. Or shooting someone. But she would do it, take out that motherfucker, if she had to.

I wonder who is the fool here. Me, or those millions of people with guns in their possession. In the event of a break and entry, or god forbid, some kind of riot or a massive earthquake where law and order breaks down, wouldn't we want to protect ourselves, our children? I think of those images from the LA Riots, when those Korean grocers guarded their stores from their rooftops, brandishing their rifles. And I thought, "Damn right. Defend yourselves and what is rightfully yours." And aren't our children worth protecting more than a bunch of groceries? And if something were to happen, something terrible, would I be able to stand by helplessly? Wouldn't I want something -- anything -- to fight back?

Of course. Of course. What parent wouldn't? I would use it -- I know it in my gut. And I wouldn't be sorry because I would be doing what I had to do to defend my children. Every parent must feel this. And every parent has the same right to defend her child as I do.

So what does that mean? A couple of guns in every household. Teachers armed with guns. Guns in glove compartments. Guns in strollers. Guns at amusement parks, at basketball games, at picnics.

I think about when my children become old enough to play at their friends' houses without me. Do I ask the parents first -- "Do you have guns in your house? How is it secured? Can I come by to make sure it's not in a place where the children can access it?" And walking down the street, I now have to worry about people with guns in addition to texting drivers, reckless kids on skateboards, pitbulls.

I grew up with a lot of fear -- in New York in the 80s. It was pre-Giuliani New York, the days paralyzed by the murder of Kitty Genovese, the smoldering anger of Bernie Goetz, the rape of the Central Park jogger. I never went out at night, and if the sun started to set while we were out, we scurried home, looking over our shoulders. As I grew older, that fear never left me, even when my parents escaped to the placidity of Long Island. I remember coming home from work, in the quiet of the evening, looking all around the vicinity from within the safety of the locked car before I darted out and ran the 20 feet to our front door. When I was in law school, I remember stopping in my tracks and waiting for the men to pass me after making deliberate eye contact with them before I continued, because that's what I learned in a self defense class. Now, even though we live in the sanctuary of La Jolla, where people leave their french doors gaping open and elementary school kids roam the neighborhood on their own, I still look over my shoulders in the evening.

That kind of anxiety still lives in me. And that is my view of the world. A dangerous place where people prey on each other. Where you keep your door locked at all times. Where there is a monster lurking behind every corner.

Our three year old went through a monster phase recently. He was scared to sleep at night because he said there was a monster in his room. He didn't want us to leave, and he wanted to keep his door open. We wanted to allay his fears, so we told him how monsters don't really exist except in books and movies. When that didn't work, we told him that the monster was a cute cuddly monster, like Elmo. When he didn't believe us, we let him sleep with our dog in his room, until we found out that he was allergic to dogs.

He has since outgrown his fear of monsters. But we went through a lot to help him feel secure in this world, to feel less threatened. Because we want him to believe that he lives in that kind of a world, where not everyone is a monster, a potential threat. Where people are kind to each other. We don't want him to grow up with anxiety, with stress, with fears that make him shrivel. We want him to thrive, to be confident. We want him to be the yellow daisy in the middle of our flower garden, not the dandelion growing in the crack of the footpath at the cemetery.

I want our children to grow up in Michael Moore's Canada, not City of God's Rio de Janeiro. Dorothy's Kansas, not the Wild West. And when I think about how we create that kind of a community, I don't picture a lot of guns. I picture a community where people can resolve their differences without weapons. Where the mentally impaired cannot pick up a semi-automatic. Where there is help for people who need it. Where everyone is included, even the socially awkward, the shy nerd, the difficult misfit. Where the social contract hasn't frayed so much at the edges that people feel the need to fend for themselves.

As a parent, I can't stop imagining all the threats around us. But I also imagine utopias, a better community for my children. And maybe the only way to get there is to start imagining it.

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