For my toddler, in the wake of the bombings at the Boston Marathon, this morning was like any other . Wake up. Jump into my bed. Request a piece of toast smeared with Nutella. Down a glass of milk while watching Dora the Explorer. Get dressed. Hop into the car with his Dora balloon, who rides along with him, and head off to school. We drove the same way we do every morning: right at the big hill, sharp right downhill at the big brown house. The bumps, the turns, the people walking their dogs — everything looked and felt familiar. And then, as he always does, Andrew began to belt: "Take me out to the ballgame! Take me out to the crowwwwd..." And I just lost it.
Behind the wheel at 34, wisps of white hair sticking up unbrushed at 8 a.m., I felt like a kid myself. I didn't want him to go to a baseball game, ever! I didn't want him in a crowd! I pictured him holding his Dora balloon in one hand, the crackerjacks he loves to sing about in his other hand, and a bomb going off as he rooted rooted rooted for the Red Sox.
I drove the few blocks to nursery school with tears running down my cheeks. I didn't bother to wipe them away. I pulled into school and slapped on a smile, hoisted Andrew from his car seat, and smiled weakly at a few other parents in the parking lot.
Nobody seemed to be in much of a talking mood. We were all dropping our kids off somewhere that wasn't home, at yet another place, a school even, that was made unsafe just a few months ago.
Andy really wanted to take his Dora balloon with him to show the class. His Nana and Zeyde had bought it for him yesterday, at a Patriots' Day parade, and it's been his constant companion since.
"Andy," I said. "You need to let go of Dora. You need to let go of the balloon."
He looked at me questioningly. It was clear that Dora, in addition to being his new best friend, was also his charge. He had spent much of the morning diapering and dressing her. The night before, she had slept with him on a mat next to his bed. "Goodnight, Dora," I caught him whispering as he patted her inflated purple backpack.
"I don't want to," he protested. "I want Dora to come with me."
"Dora goes to a different school," I explained, using the magical spontaneous reasoning that parents do. I pretended to look at my watch. "And if we don't get her off to school on time, she'll be late on her first day. You don't want that, do you?" He stared at me with his brown eyes open wide. He either thought I was crazy or brilliant. And then he nodded.
"No way," he agreed. "Don't want that." So he patted her backpack again and blew her a kiss. "Love ya, Dora!" he called as he maneuvered out the door. And then he let go of the string.
A child's sense of security is so heartbreakingly absolute. He knew that I'd come back for him at 5:30, and that Dora would be right there waiting for him, and so would I. And so I hugged him goodbye just like every other morning. Then I walked back to my car, slowly, as if prolonging the walk could somehow prolong my life, his life, our time together. I passed other parents taking their kids by the hand, walking toward the entrance. It may be my imagination, but every parent looked a bit beaten down, a little resigned, a little tentative. Again.
I returned to my car and there was Dora, bobbing up and down next to Andy's car seat, her inflated head grazing the roof. At her feet were his things, tokens of a carefree kid's life: a sand pail, last year's sandals, a torn Elmo coloring book and some crayons. I began to think of eight-year-old Martin Richard and how he probably had those same things when he was two. And how he loved to play baseball and probably had a bat in his backseat, and maybe a glove, since it's finally springtime now, but he would never get to enjoy this spring or any other spring, because some cowardly twisted individual took it all away. I wondered what would happen to his glove.
I sat in the driver's seat and cried for a few seconds. It all felt so futile, so meaningless. I imagined myself changing the diapers of a child who could someday not be here. Of picking up toys that would someday go untouched at the whim of a crazy person. Even as I scolded myself for being irrational — this thing is an aberration, they'll catch whoever did it, what are the chances, stop crying, stop crying — I felt like I was four years old. I wanted someone to tell me it would be OK.
And so I did the only thing I could think of to make myself feel better. I got out of the car again, opened the backseat door, and I fastened Dora's seatbelt.
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