The nanosecond that I read the story about the Krim family's unimaginable loss of two of their children allegedly at the hands of their nanny, I covered my mouth and a flood of fresh tears welled up in my eyes before I could even read the gruesome details. I'm not a crier — I'm just a parent. And the horror of losing my child is nothing close to unimaginable; it's a real fear you live with every day the moment you devote yourself to the care of another person, a raw nerve the world can sting at will.
It isn't that before having a child, I would have been callous to this family's suffering. It's that before I might have been able to shut it out, pretend it was something that happened somewhere far away to people I would never know. Before, I wouldn't have had the reference point for how deep the pain of that loss could go, how unfathomably, core-shakingly deep the gut-punch would be. Now I do.
I don't pretend to know what the Krims are feeling. I only know the unavoidable, irreversible risk one takes in having and loving a child, and it is unlike any other on earth. I have never been so attuned to the suffering of children as I am now that I have one, and once your eyes are opened to the extent of their suffering in the world, often at the hands of people they trust, you realize you would guard every last one of them with your life if you could.
It is a story as old as the day is long, but making a person changes you forever. Take a look at any parent and know that their weakest, most vulnerable spot is now in externalized physical shape in the form of their child. We can pretend to be carefree people living spontaneously in the world, but inside we know there is something very real which can wreck us at any moment as easily as flicking a switch. Only second to that is the weight of the responsibility to do right by them.
Among mothers I know, talk of trusting your child's care to "just anyone" is a freighted game of risk, and it's always in the background of our conversations about their well-being. We are concerned, we are guilty, we are afraid. We are better mothers when we are working, we remind ourselves, and we ache for our children as we constantly reconcile the choice to outsource their care and be fully developed human beings ourselves.
But there is never a world free of fear or risk: There are whispered tales of nannies caught on cameras speaking cruelly to children the moment the mother is out of earshot, or worse. There are second-guesses about daycares once thought adequate, reappraisals of every caregiver trusted in the rearview window of our minds. Did we choose well? Did we vet enough? Did our money get us the best that money can buy?
There is the cloud of fear that stalks every decision to send your child out into the world or invite someone into your home. For the thousands of children who walk themselves safely to school there is a disproportionately magnified tale of a kidnapping and death en route to school in a sleepy town where nothing bad ever happened to anyone.
The moment you become a parent, you inherit this fear, like a ticker tape of worry in the mind. Most days you do well to blot it out like a bad dream or nagging insecurity. It is no help that is an endless cycle of tragic news stories about the abuse and suffering of children. But if you let it, the fear will burst through and infect you. And then what? You cannot let it. You still have to carry this awkward, complicated truth about the world around with you and yet be a living person in the world, a person who embraces life.
Very quickly upon becoming a mother, I realized the stories were everywhere. Were they always there, and had I just ignored them? Or did they increase? And worse, it was as if the headlines appeared to target me directly, probably an unfortunate result of my own click habits.
Day after day a veritable rabbit hole of headlines appears in the sidebar of every online newspaper I read: abuse, starvation, murder, molestation and neglect — every imaginable kind of cruelty you can inflict on a child. And it is, in most every case, someone close to the child perpetrating these crimes.
In Los Angeles alone, there are countless stories of children ignored or forgotten by an overwhelmed social services program, left to starve or die in the hands of parents or caregivers who have sometimes even already been investigated. It is enough to make you grab your child and hole up in a closet and never go into the world again.
And then every now and again, something truly awful, truly unspeakable, truly senseless, like what happened to the Krims, cuts through. And you just have to sit there with it, the awfulness of it, the horror of it. You dive to the bottom of the wreck, and you face the fear as best you can. You use their story to try in some abstract, hopeless way, to remind yourself again how deep and profound sorrow can be. To prepare yourself somehow. And then you send every vibe of love and regeneration and hope to that child, those children, that family, and you pray to whatever makes sense to you that the survivors can heal, that there is some kind of light at the end of that tunnel, that no one else ever has to endure such profound grief again.
But you know that they will. You know the ticker tape of horror is still there, waiting to remind you of the fleetingness of everything, reminding you to hold your baby tighter, be more vigilant, love her better, because you have no idea what comes next, you only know the triumph of today. Somehow, it makes you stronger.
Tracy Moore is a writer living in Los Angeles. She is picking up her child early from daycare today to hug her a thousand times. She's on Twitter: @iusedtobepoor.
Image va Sweet Lana/Shutterstock.