Almost every Tuesday evening I go down toward Golden Gate Park from The Presidio, to go to a meeting with the godawful name of the “Single Parents Network”. Believe it or not it’s a very nifty group, and Tessie loves going . A big playroom with lots of adults there to serve her every whim, as opposed to one somewhat overworked and distracted mom who’s trying to juggle dishes, laundry, 3 other housemates, and a few other minor and sundry tasks like a masters thesis and a more-than-full time job. What’s not to like?

So the typical routine is we head straight there from her daycare, stopping at the McDonalds across the street for something vaguely resembling dinner. Yesterday, as we drove toward Waller, we had to pull over for an ambulance, hook and ladder, and two police cars. Didn’t even really think about, my mind was elsewhere.

But then we parked, and walked down the sidewalk, and into the charming Mickey Ds, complete with ubiquitous San Francisco street people and random mutterers. All those emergency vehicles were right outside of the other door of the McDonalds.

Two manager types were mopping to floor, and an officer was directing them to clear the place out. That’s when I noticed the bloody handprints on the door, and the emergency fleet outside.

I ordered a happy meal (o so aptly named at this moment) and some dreadful unmemorable something for myself. This is one of those moments your head turns completely sideways and reality goes two-dimensional, but your body keeps going though the motions. Bloody handprints. Jesus. “Tessie, do you want Chicken McNuggets, or a hamburger?” Something is seriously wrong with this. Trying to appear normal, and draw Tessie’s attention away from what was happening, we went outside amongst the mutterers to try to eat.

Another parent and his daughter, about Tessie's age, wandered up, only to be turned away at the door. The had locked up, temporarily. He asked me what was happening, and one of the young fellows at the next table piped up, in front of the 2 four-year-olds, “Oh, a guy was stabbed. With a screwdriver.”

Thanks, dude.

One of the mutterers decided we looked like fun, so we retreated to the old fire station where the parents' group meets. Another mom came in. “I need to go to McDonalds, will you watch Tina?”
“It’s closed.”
”I’ll tell you later.” (thinking to protect the young ears.)
Tessie explains, “Someone was stabbed.”

Happy Birthday from Planet Motherfucker. What do I do with this? I didn’t freak out yesterday in the midst of it, but I’m seem to be having a next-day mini freak-out. I live in the Presidio, and it’s sort of like living in the country club, five minutes away from San Francisco. We forget, and leave our door unlocked. I sometimes leave my car open, and I’ve been known to leave my purse on the seat. Our kids’ bikes sit outside for days, no one touches them. But this is the city where Tessie might be going to school – a city where by the time she is 13 she will undoubtedly go through a metal detector every time she goes inside the school.

I was in Eugene when the Thurston High School massacre happened. It was soon eclipsed by the Columbine massacre. A columbine is a wonderful, delicate wildflower, one of my favorites. But that's not what comes to mind now when I hear the word columbine. I went to grad school with teachers who knew the parents of those kids, the ones who died, the ones who were heroes. At Thurston, one child left four pipe bombs for the police after he killed his parents, also two teachers.

I don’t want this for my child, I want shangri-la, I want bali-hai, I want Our Town. I want Atticus Finch as my neighbor, defending the imnnocent against all evil doers. I want Everything, Kansas, where if anyone bothers my child 19 noders with 22s will be immediately there, saying "What can I do for you, podner?" in good John Wayne voices. I want her to be safe, to feel like the world is a fine place for her to explore at will. I want her to be able to take off on a bike, as I did (and oooh, it was wonderful) to visit friends, at age 6 or 7, in the small up-state New York town where I spent my childhood. How old will she have to be when I let her ride a bike to a friend’s house? 9? 10? 16? 35? I can’t answer this question, I can only make my best guess and hope we’re lucky.

But I want her to have my childhood, not a childhood of fear, and murderous weapons in the hands of 14 year olds and unknown strangers getting stabbed on the steps of a McDonalds. Or my mother’s childhood, the privileged youngest child of a professor at Cornell, living in Trumansburg and going to a one-room schoolhouse. A Laura Ingalls Wilder childhood, except without a long winter of near-starvation.

The other question I haven’t been asked, but I know it’s coming: “Mama, what does stabbed mean?”

I can’t answer this question, I can only make my best guess. And hope we’re lucky.


After discussing whether or not I should bring this up with Tess again, in case she didn't understand it, the other shoe dropped without my prompting. I picked her up yesterday afternoon, and as soon as we were in the car, the question, "Mama, do you remember when that man was stabbed at McDonalds?"
"Yes, Tess. Do you know what stabbed means?"
"It means somebody stuck something sharp into somebody else, and it hurt, and he had to go to the hospital."
(Bless you, Lometa and evilrooster, for helping to provide the words for an answer to this question.)
"Like when you broke your leg, and you went to the hospital, and they fixed you?"
"Yes, honey."
"Yuck. That's scary."
"Yes it is, Tess, but I do everything I can to keep you safe."
"Okay, mama. I know I'm safe if I'm with you." Oh, that I was as omnipotent as she finds me.....

And we went on to the next topic. I realized in a way this was a followup to the "mama, why did those men fly those airplanes into those buildings? So it's not safe for us to fly anymore, is it?" conversation, but that's a story for another day.

Thank you, thank you, cubed, to the E2 parents who kicked this around with me and helped me figure out how to handle it. E2 parents is a godsend and blessings to graceness and rancid pickle for setting it up.

And thanks to Ouroboros for his editing comments. You rawk, dude!

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