As a mom, I am not sure I have really developed eyes in the back of my head. I do know, however, that I can now see with my heart in ways I never could before my children were born.
I will never forget the first doctor visit after we brought our oldest son home from Romania. With big eyes, our son sat on the examining table in just his diaper and socks while the doctor talked to us about his rickets and how malnourished he was. “Well, just look at his distended stomach,” said the doctor. “That is an obvious sign of malnourishment.” Suddenly, in our son, I could see the faces of hungry children who had stared at me from the posters lining my elementary and high school walls. I had only glanced at them as I moved on to class. In that doctor’s office, childhood hunger became real. I realized that any starving child could be my child. And, in fact, one was.
When we brought our twins home from Romania, my husband and I each had a terrified child to hold down while the doctor took a blood sample. I will never forget the doctor pointing out the many little needle marks on my son’s arm. “He was obviously a failure-to-thrive baby. They must have given him a lot of IVs. Usually only drug users have marks like that.” Suddenly, I could see all the little babies I had read about who had born to mothers with drug problems. In his early months our son had laid in a hospital crib, connected to IVs, seemingly alone in the world.
When our daughter was little, she had pneumonia. I lay on the floor beside the couch while she slept, waking her for frequent breathing treatments and listening to her labored breathing. Suddenly, the fear of every parent whose child has asthma was mine. I couldn’t sleep. I could only hold her hand and watch her breath each slow, little breath.
When I became pregnant with our last child, the pregnancy was quickly labeled “high risk.” I was in my late 30s and had already had three miscarriages. I spent a lot of time at the doctor’s office. We had several scares. I will always remember how vulnerable I felt. I wanted desperately to protect my little guy, but wasn’t sure I could. Suddenly, I understood the worried, scared faces of the mothers I had seen in news articles about war and poverty. I understood just how devastating it can feel to be uncertain that you can save your child…because I wasn’t certain I could save mine.
Yesterday I saw the headline, “Mistaken Attack Kills 9 Afghan Boys.” I really wanted to glance at the headline and move on with my day. But my children have opened my eyes. I knew I had ties to this tragedy.
Nine Afghan boys were killed by American forces while gathering fire wood. It is hard to imagine the boys in the brush, laughing and joking one minute, screaming and terrified the next minute. My heart wails with their parents at such a loss. It is hard to think about the feelings of the American service members when they found out they had not shot armed fighters, but rather unarmed boys. I worry about how will they cope and survive the guilt and burden of this tragedy.
I am linked to those nine young boys and their families half-a-world away through the insights I have gained as a parent. I am linked to the service members who are in Afghanistan because they are my neighbors, watching the same stupid TV shows I watch and attending fall festivals at the local school when they are home. And I am also linked to the boys and the service members by my tax dollars which paid for those bullets.
Sometimes I would rather be blind to all the pain out there, but I know I can’t. The lives of my family are linked in mysterious ways to the lives of all families. My children have taught me this. Love does not allow us to look away. Tragedies like this will only stop when we look at them through the eyes and heart of a parent--- seeing the ties that bind us all, everywhere and at all times, together.