A World Like This
On being a parent in times where the world seems impossible
Whenever something like this happens, we hear the same things.
(I don’t have to specify what “something like this” is. If you’re reading this close to when I wrote it in late May 2022, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you’re reading this six months or a year from now, there’s a tragically-high chance that you won’t know specifically what I was talking about, but you can almost certainly apply this to some fresh tragedy by then.)
Thoughts and prayers will be offered by the small handful of people who have any power to change things if only they’d act instead of just thinking and praying. Demands that we not politicize the tragedy will be issued by people who’ve become obscenely rich through the business of politicizing everything in our lives. Flags will be lowered, moments of silence will be held, and the closest thing to national leadership we have will be heard from a basketball coach or someone else similarly far from the levers of power.
It’s a predictable songbook at this point, the theme music to a society that’s gone completely off the rails, and each time we hear it, it fades a little more into being simply background music.
There’s another sentiment that’s often expressed at times like these that still catches me, though.
“I don’t know how you can raise kids in a world like this.”
I find this one much harder to ignore, because—unlike all those thoughts and prayers—it’s usually said from the heart, often by close friends who are as every bit as shocked and gutted by the news of the day as I am.
I appreciate the sentiment; I understand the sentiment. If you feel this way, I can’t begrudge you that. It might be the right sentiment for you.
I’d like to explain why I don’t feel the same way, though.
I fear for my children.
I fear for them every moment of every day; my natural state as a parent is a simmering background anxiety, a constant preoccupation with all of the things that could possibly harm them. I worry about the big things and I worry about the small things and I worry about everything in between.
I fear that they’ll get hurt.
I fear that they’ll wipe out on their bikes and scrape their knees. I fear that they’ll fall off the retaining wall that they love walking along the top of and hit their heads. I fear that they’ll hurt their feet if they keeping jumping off the fifth stair, and I fear that they’ll poke out each other’s eyes with sticks if they keep swinging them around like that.
I fear that I’m not doing enough.
I fear that the screen time I’ve allowed them is too much and that it’ll rot their brains. I fear that a diet comprised mostly of snack crackers and pizza will somehow stunt their development. I fear that I’m not reading to them as much as I should be and that I’m cursing in front of them more than I should be. I fear that I’ll make the wrong decision for their futures; I fear that we’ll trust the wrong person with their care.
I fear for the world around them.
I fear for the rising seas and boiling skies. I fear for a political climate tilting ever further into a dark and dangerous place. I fear that one day a person with hate in their heart and a gun in their hands will walk into our lives and all I will be left with is the thoughts and prayers of the people who could have done something to stop it.
That is the world we live in.
That is the world that I live in.
I heard the news about yesterday’s tragedy while I was in the car line waiting to pick my son up last night. I was talking on the phone with my own parents—who have never stopped worrying about me even as I approach my 40th birthday—when my mother stopped mid-sentence, gasping as she saw the news on television. I had to cut off the conversation as my son bounded to the car, but it was the only thing on my mind on the drive home, even as he regaled me with stories of art class and French class and lunchtime and what his best friend thinks about various Pokémon.
I doom-scrolled for a while as the kids plugged in for their nightly allotment of tablet time, my son occasionally shouting out a new fact from the other room about the latest dragon he’d obtained in his favorite game.
I felt devastation for the families of the murdered, and for the classmates forever traumatized by yet another act of senseless and preventable violence. I felt an inability to comprehend the depth of tragedy that’s become all too easy to comprehend in this country. I felt that same sickness that I always feel in moments like this; that same disgusted feeling of powerless fury, that sense that the country I was raised to love has reached a point of no return, a place where no amount of bloodshed and heartbreak can effect any change to stop things like this from happening.
It was time for dinner.
I cooked some eggs—breakfast for dinner is easy, and it makes everyone happy—and just as I was clearing the plates, neighbor friends stopped by to say hello on their evening walk. The kids frolicked wildly together in the yard, doing a number of the things I fear them doing while I kept my back turned and chatted about an upcoming neighborhood meeting.
When it was time to part ways, my daughter bounded up to me with a hand-picked bouquet, artfully assembled from clover, dandelions, crabgrass and cocklebur, all of the things I should be purging from my unkempt lawn if I could be bothered to care a whit about basic lawn maintenance.
“Can we put these in some water when we get inside, Daddy? I want them to stay pretty!”
I will never stop fearing for my children, even when they’re the age I am now. I will never stop worrying about the little things or the big, and I hope never be able to comprehend the hurt of families facing this most unimaginable tragedy. My life has been shaped by this concern for the last seven years and will continue to be shaped by it as long as I walk this earth.
I would not trade away a single day of being their parent, though.
There are days when the weight of the world seems too much to bear, but just seeing them gives me the strength to pick them up in my arms. There are days where I just want to stop, and they remind me why I keep going. There are days like this, when they are the only bright, shining points of light in a world that seems impossibly dark.
In a world like this, it helps to have someone who can look at a field of weeds and see a bouquet of flowers.
—Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)