I awoke in paradise but the news was a nightmare. As the waves crashed against the shore outside my window and the children slept, I read the reports of the Saturday night slaughter of 49 in an Orlando gay night club.
Together for the first time since Christmas, my two sons, my stepdaughter and I were full of anticipation about our helicopter ride over the luscious landscape of Kauai, a hike along the Napali coast, and simply being together.
“Did you hear about Orlando?” was my good morning from my youngest. “I did,” I replied. We then fell silent about the subject for the remainder of the day and the three that followed. The television was never turned to the news, but we individually followed it as the ugly details unfolded. “What are you reading?” Marisa asked one day. “Orlando,” I said. But nothing more.
Wednesday morning we awoke excited for the day.” I clapped my hands in glee on my choice of brie and bacon French toast over the caprese omelet, but the massacre remained on my mind. “At some point, can we talk about Orlando?” I asked as I sipped my Kona coffee. “Oh but not now,” was their gentle objection. I understood.
It was not until Thursday that I cried my first tears. I envisioned the inconsolable grief of that mother, that father, facing the senseless murder and devastating loss of their precious children. I could feel the pressure in the center of my chest as my breathing became shallow. If it had been Omaha instead of Orlando it could have been me.
At our farewell family dinner a week after the shooting my tender-hearted Benjamin asked, “Did you still want to talk about Orlando?” I didn’t want my emotional outpouring to be the final memory from a week of seeing dolphins and sunsets, sea turtles and rainbows. I struggled to contain the heaviness I had been carrying in my heart and lied into my forkful of fettuccine, “I just want to hear how each of you is experiencing it.”
The truth was, I needed to talk. I needed to say how horrific it is to know the impossibility of keeping my children safe. I wanted them to know how fragile I realized my capacity to protect them was, and that the desire to do so was not reduced by the fact that they are mature millennials and not Montessori preschoolers.
Every parent knows this fear, and parents who are divorced know it even more. When your children are away from you there is a sense of powerlessness about how to shield them from everything from too many video games to too much cotton candy at the circus. We worry about their sleep, their skin, their sensitive souls.
As I listened to the thoughtful and insightful reflections, I felt simultaneously proud and heartsick. “This was an attack on a group that I’m a part of,” said one. “I hope it begins a new dialogue in our country,” said another. “There’s nothing I can say,” said a third.
Doing our best to keep our children safe is a parent’s duty. Recognizing that there are limits is a reality. With that, I’ll be saving for that next family vacation or for any time I can have my children near.