Once, when I was around 22 years old, already a kindergarten teacher, I dropped my twelve-year-old brother off at his bus stop at the bottom of our mountain. Some bigger boys immediately started roughing him up. I don’t remember exactly – maybe they slapped his head or pushed him or something. There was definitely bodily contact. Suddenly, my body was flooded with a certain fear and anger that I had never experienced before. It was my first influx of what I now recognize as “mama bear” adrenaline. My hand reached for the door and I was in the process of leaping out of the car when they moved away from him, and it was over.
That unique tsunami of fear and rage is now something that I, as a mother, feel every.single.day.
My brother got on the bus to head to the only middle school in our county, and I reversed my crouch that I had been holding while I hung halfway out of the car. Heart pumping, I drove to my kindergarten class to begin a day where children are never that mean to each other. During the drive, I realized two things:
- I realized that I didn’t actually know what I would have done if I had gotten out of the car to confront those bullies. My students were five. I didn’t know how to talk to middle schoolers. Plus, I had not yet honed my “Batman Mom Voice.” The truth is, I was terrified of those boys. They probably weighed more than me. What would I have actually done? I had no idea, but I knew that that fear/rage electricity pumping through my veins would have shown me what to do.
- I realized that my brother probably experienced that bullying every single day and that incident was not unique. (In fact, he absolutely wouldn’t even remember it even if he reads this post.) I had experienced my share of bullying in middle school, but it was mostly verbal – with the exception of the one time a boy punched me in the stomach. But seeing it directed to someone whose diapers I used to change, the emotions were a hundred times stronger than they would have been if the bullies had targeted me. Despite the fact that I had never witnessed that meanness directed toward my much-younger brother did not mean it never happened. Like me, he was quirky, opinionated, and not a “joiner.” These things don’t mesh well with middle school.
And now that I’m a mother whose children are being sent off into the world, I have realized the third thing:
- That unique tsunami of fear and rage is now something that I, as a mother, feel every.single.day.
What if I had known that that fear/rage would be something that I would feel every single day, when my children interact with the outside world? If someone had told me that being a mother would hurt so much, would I have jumped in as enthusiastically? Is this what they mean when they say, “Being a parent is like having your heart walking around outside your body”?
I feel it every time that another child is mean to them. I feel it every time an adult doesn’t hear something important they tried to say. I feel it every time I leave them. Every time I put them on the bus. Every time I leave them at the gym daycare. I feel it every time someone tries to place my oldest son with the wrong family, even when they know us. I feel it every time someone mixes up my twins, even when they know us. I feel it when my child tries to tell me about something hard, when his voice gets quivery and his eyes get wet. I feel it every time I read about a Black man getting shot by the police. I feel it every time I read a news story about bullying, or about special needs, or about abuse. I feel it when I have to take a deep breath and teach my children about lockdown drills, school shooters, “run hide fight”, stranger danger, “tricky people”, white supremacy, and sex trafficking. Hell, I feel it when I even think or read about any of those things.
This feeling of rage/fear is here to stay. I know now that it won’t ever go away. It doesn’t matter how old my children get. I know that being a mother brings sacrifices – but maybe learning to live with this feeling is the greatest sacrifice of all.
(If you don’t feel this way, then congrats, and please teach me. But also you probably aren’t the mother of a special needs child, or a Black child.)