“Really?” my son, Clyde, asked me, his voice thick with disbelief, “you’re reading that now?”
I glanced down at the book in question: Violent Ends, a novel about a school shooting written from seventeen different perspectives. “What?” I replied. “It’s an interesting subject.”
“It’s only interesting because there’s been like five threatening notes about it at my school! You’re not supposed to be interested; you’re supposed to be worried.”
“Can’t I be both?”
“Are you?” he asked with a glare.
“Well,” I hedged. “I could be. You wouldn’t know.”
“Except I do. Because it’s you.” And then he shook his head and walked away, not in the I-hate-you-and-you’re-ruining-my life kind of way, but rather in the what-am-I-supposed-to-do-with-a-mom-like-you kind of way. (And yes, I can tell the difference.)
The thing is, he was right. I wasn’t worried. But then again neither was he: he just wanted to tease me about my potentially insensitive choice of reading material. How do I know he wasn’t worried? Because this is the same kid who once texted me on his walk home from elementary school to tell me that “a man just gave me some candy and now I’m all sleeeeepy.” (I laughed when I got it, and then ran outside to look down the street: he was waiting for me with a huge smile on his face.)
Am I saying that I never had a moment’s worry about him being abducted when he was younger? No. The same way I am not now saying I never worry about him being caught in violence at school (or anywhere else, for that matter.) Being a parent means that you are in a constant state of worry: about school shootings, global warming, the collapse of the economy, the gradual erosion of civil rights. It is, as someone once described it, like having a horror movie playing in your head all of the time: that’s how much and how often you think about all the terrible things that can happen to your child. It is such a constant that, at the end of the day, the only real wish you have remaining is that somehow everything will work out in such a way that you are lucky enough to be the one who dies first.
So yeah, I worry.
But I’m not a worrier. My worry doesn’t define me, and it doesn’t define my relationship with my kids. And it doesn’t define my relationship with your kids, either. Meaning that, just as I’m convinced that my kids are generally pretty awesome people, I think yours probably are, too. And for that matter, so are you. Yep: call me Pollyanna, but I genuinely believe that most people are good. And, after nearly fifty years of boots-on-the-ground style research, I’m happy to report that my theory has held up admirably well. (Remember: I said most, not all.)
Which explains why I have felt comfortable sending Clyde to school despite the notes: I know that, overwhelmingly, the people he is sitting next to in class are good. (I would even venture to say that the person or persons who are writing the notes are good, too—just confused and a little sad.)
It is entirely possible, of course, that I am wrong about this. It is entirely possible that there is a sociopath in out midst, someone who is not at all good (or, for that matter, evil, because they do not have the capacity to tell the difference between the two), and that person is waiting out there, biding their time before they cause serious harm. But in that case there is nothing I can do about it anyway, and so worrying about such an event happening is even less helpful.
So yeah, I’m going to keep sending my kid to school. Where he will (hopefully) be sitting next to your kids. And in the meantime, I’m not going to worry about anything—other than which annoying book I’m going to read in front of him next, that is.