When you realize you can't protect your kids from everything...
I am at the park with my kids on an unusually chilly July morning. This park is AWESOME. It has a zip line, really big slides and—ok, I’m just the parent.
It’s mid-morning and I hear a pop-pop-pop off in the distance. I think to myself, leftover Fourth of July fireworks. But a part of me wonders—if I were a teenager, would I be up and setting off fireworks on some random morning?
We continue playing. There is a treasure hunt feature on this playground where kids can find the shell, the star, all these objects around. This gets some wiggles out for about 15 minutes. Afterward, I try to keep all three kids happy on the seesaw and swings, but it is a juggling act. Then I hear sirens and think, man, teenager ruined his day. But then I hear more sirens, and that feeling I had creeps back up my spine like a fast moving spider. I twitch.
It is almost my kids’ lunch time so we work our way back to the stroller. More sirens—a different kind. They get closer and closer and then the loud nearby ones stop, revealing more sirens in the distance. I soon realize that all of these sirens are going to the parking lot.
I march my kids over the hill and see a parking lot full of red flashing lights. My kids say ‘'oooooh ambulance” and “ooooooh fire truck!” And “a police car!” It’s like their dream come true. But I begin to dread the walk across the parking lot to our car. I get them over the median, across the second part of the lot to our car. Just then, what seems like the fourth ambulance pulls into the parking lot and parks right behind us. We are blocked in. Thinking my car was the safest place to avoid, at a minimum, pandemonium, I get everyone strapped in. They are all in rear-facing car seats.
I call Courtney and tell her I think something horrible has happened. We are blocked in. Noticing the significant police presence, I then leave the driver’s seat and go over toward where an officer is standing to see if there is anything active I need to worry about. He says to me, “This is not the part you want to see.” I frown but am not surprised. Nor am I worried about seeing things. I’ve handled 23 wrongful death claims. I’m used to it. But out of respect for their process, I back away. Their seemingly casual demeanor at least indicates no current danger. I go back to the driver’s seat, close the door, and wait.
I have no idea why they didn’t use the two ambulances closer, but they didn’t. They wheeled someone right behind us (where my kids were looking). A face covered. My oldest notes she has nicely painted nails. I think, oh my god, what can I do. No way are they wheeling a second person back here. And then, my daughter says “his face is scratched up.” I see a shirtless man on a stretcher—his face not covered with streams of blood in all directions. My heart is racing. I’m stuck in my car and there is nothing I can do to remove my kids from this situation.
What they witnessed was the immediate aftermath of a murder suicide. I suspected as much given the lack of urgency among the police officers.
The great thing about kids is they are only scared if you’re scared. And they were very much ok. The thing that sticks with me most is the feeling of not being able to protect my kids from seeing this part of, well, the world. The painful part where grownups do awful things. Where the world allows senseless violence and fairness is aspirational.
We can’t control the world as parents, but we can control how we respond. And that’s the lesson our kids need anyway.
After this happened, we donated $10,000 to mental health causes.
To be clear, by giving my perspective on this I in no way mean to minimize or compare the experience of the families involved. Theirs is a grief I do not pretend to know.
I also want to say this: It’s not “why therapy”? It’s “why not.” I don’t think it’s enough to tell people “it’s ok to go to therapy.” The default should be why not.