Sometimes the weight of the world feels unbearable when you have kids.
I used to start my day off with a cup of coffee and the news. Now, too often the headlines of the day come out fighting, pummeling us with a new death, terror, tragedy, fear, hatred. I just can’t do it anymore: I can no longer sit still on the couch, my body still numb with sleep, absorbing all the heavy things. And mostly because I will sit, and I will hear the quiet unlatching of a door, a soft pip-pap-pip-pap as footed jammie feet make their way to my lap. She will see the weight on my furrowed brow and she will ask, “Mommy, are you sad?”
I find myself struggling to find words in the wake of tragedy. My heart breaks realizing that school lockdowns and natural disasters are a part of her reality, that predators and addiction are demons our children will have to protect themselves against. I get scared for them; because this is the world we are passing on. It’s a world full of scary people, scary things. It’s a world that will make a mother feel helpless.
Deep within me, there is the constant ticking of an unsettled frustration, a rage that wants to scream, THIS IS NOT OK! It’s a fire burning on the coals of a mother’s most primal urge to protect her child, though I know that I cannot. There is little I can do to protect my babies from a random act of violence, a tumultuous climate, a world full of unfounded hate and senseless fear. I see the heavy things and I see the face of my daughter and the future in her eyes and all I can say is: Yes. Mommy is sad.
But where words fail, action is always a savior.
Instead, when the weight of the world is too heavy, I narrow my focus, and I pull her in. When I feel there is nothing I can do, nothing I can say, nothing I can fix, we look down at the earth or up at the sky. We examine bugs and flowers and the cracks on the sidewalk. We watch the wind in the trees, find shapes in the clouds. We take a walk, find the perfect rock, make wishes on dandelion stems. We slow down. We look for treasures and beauty. We cultivate wonder. Because it seems like the only thing that can combat the weight of the world is wonder.
Perhaps the only true protection I can offer them is to teach them the skills of observation, so they know when something isn’t right. To teach them to be perceptive and allow intuition and empathy to guide their actions. I can teach them that though we want to cower in fear, we must have the courage to connect more. When all we want to do is hide, we take a step outside. Reaching out a hand to our neighbors is the only true strength we will find. And I can teach them appreciation for the beauty that surrounds them, everywhere. They will know that when all is said and done, there will still be butterflies and puffy clouds, and the sun will rise again. I can hope that they find solace in that fact, and the strength to always seek up.
I wonder sometimes, about the bad guys. About what happened to them. Because they, too, were once little. They learned to crawl and to walk and laughed when someone played peek-a-boo. Perhaps the weight of the world they knew was too much to bear.
There are no guarantees in this life. No promise that we all get a happy ending. But I’d like to think that as mothers, we have superpowers beyond just multitasking and making boo-boos disappear. We are the magic makers, the curators of wonder and beauty. We are the guideposts, the light in the dark. As each day bows into night, when we brush little teeth and kiss tiny cheeks and sweep tangled curls away from sweaty foreheads, we are shaping the future. And that in itself might be heroic enough.
Saralyn Ward is an award-winning writer, wellness advocate, and mountain mama. She is the founder of The Mama Sagas, writes for several publications and hosts a regular parenting TV segment on Colorado's Everyday Show. When she's not huddled over edits, you're likely to find Saralyn climbing peaks or skiing down them, and reminding herself that the two little girls that call her mom are not the boss of her.