I saw an ad recently about a new reality television show featuring bad moms. Besides my ongoing bemusement as to why we need yet one more vapid, insipid and just plain stupid reality show, I also question why we’ve now turned to bad mothering as a source of entertainment. I tried to forget about this show as soon as I saw the ad, but a quote from one of the moms stuck with me. She said, “The hardest thing about being a mom is keeping another human being alive.”
Damn straight, sister.
I suspect that this mom’s sentiments are based on a different reality than mine, but her words lived with me this past Monday. The night before, a tornado struck the northern part of Shawnee, Oklahoma, our home. Early Sunday evening, as the skies turned threatening, I did what most other people were doing. I watched the local weather to keep track of the storm that was coming so I could make sure we stayed safe. I also have a weather channel app on my IPad and my IPhone, again so we can remain safe. My first instinct when a storm is approaching is to stay put. We were all home. We don’t have a storm cellar or a basement where we live, but I figured we would go into our bathroom and wait in the tub if we had to. As we were doing just that, I got a text from a friend asking me where we were taking shelter. When I told her the bathtub, she suggested we go to a tornado shelter in town. We ran for the car and started to make our way to the one where she and her family were staying.
The skies were getting darker. The winds were getting fiercer, and I realized about half a minute into the drive to that particular shelter that we were heading right toward the storm. When I saw that a fire station was serving as a shelter, I pulled the most audacious U-turn of my driving career, parked the car and we ran. The hardest part about being a mom is keeping another human being alive.
While I stayed relatively calm and cool during our time in the shelter, once it was all over and we could go home, I sat in the car and shook. I’d gotten really lucky. I’d kept my kids, these human beings, alive, but what if ?
Then Monday came. As we were still processing what had happened in Shawnee and the damage sustained and souls lost north and west of the main part of town, the skies darkened again. Once more I turned on local television and saw, live, the EF5 tornado that developed and laid waste to Moore, a bustling town just south of Oklahoma City and west of Shawnee.
As the storm dissipated, the first pictures of the devastation in Moore were horrifying. They didn’t get better. At Plaza Towers Elementary School, the school where seven children died, reporters on the ground told of frantic, hysterical parents being held back from the rubble so the first responders could do their work. All any of us who were watching could do was pray and cry and pray some more. I understood that the hardest job of a mom or a dad or anyone who loves another human being isn’t just keeping that human being alive, it’s realizing that no matter what we do to protect the ones we love sometimes there are forces beyond our control. Sometimes we can’t keep the ones we love the most safe, well, and too often tragically, alive. But what parent standing outside of that demolished school wouldn’t have willingly traded places with their child?
I think that’s the great beauty and the great cost of love. When we love someone, we’d rather have something happen to us than to them. It doesn’t matter the configuration of love – parent for a child, child for a parent, spouse for spouse, teacher for student, neighbor for neighbor – when you love someone, you’d willingly take their place. The hardest thing about loving is that sometimes you can’t.
To the people in our community and in our state who have lost so much in these terrible storms, we can't take your place in your suffering. But we can walk right beside you. We can and will love you. We will do everything in our power to meet your need and your heartache with love, in words and in deeds.