Run on.

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Yesterday I woke up and stumbled into the kitchen to make coffee. Three boys swirled around me like a tornado of needs and wants – some welcome (hugs and snuggles) and some less welcome (a TV show I’m not nearly awake enough to deal with). My husband strolls into the kitchen, brushing his teeth, and hands me his phone. His finger taps on a headline as if to say “Can you believe this shit?”

50+ dead (revised to 59 later). 400+ injured (revised to 500+ later). A gunman has opened fire on an enormous country music festival crowd right on the Las Vegas strip.

My mind immediately goes to who I know in that area, who has traveled there recently, who might be there. I run to Facebook and begin to check. Ashley? Check. Geoff? No, he’s been in Chicago. Phew. Who else? I scroll and my empathic side begins that subtle buzz it always develops on days like these.

Back in 1999, when I got in my mom’s car after school (freshman year…what a doozy) and found her in tears, she explained what had just happened at Columbine High School and I handed her a poem I’d written in the library at lunch that day. I don’t have the poem anymore, and even if I did, I’d probably hate it (as most writers cringe at a lot of their past work). It was later that week as headlines flowed in from the early days of saturation coverage, pre-social media, pre-smartphone, that I discovered the worst carnage of Columbine had occurred right there in the school library.

Empathy is different than compassion. Compassion can be faked. Compassion can be canned and posted as a meme. Empathy cannot. It is an extremely misunderstood emotion by those who lack it, and an almost impossible to explain feeling for those who have it. It is to mentally and emotionally remove the victim from a situation and put yourself there – to consume the enormity of what happened not out of a choice, but out of an inability not to. Horror films and disturbing story lines are always difficult for me because I find myself emerging from a dark theater, silently thanking God for the daylight and reality I find is still intact. As if I am surprised. As if everything passed away in that moment when I couldn’t escape what was happening onscreen.

Columbine was small by comparison to the absolute massacre that took place in Las Vegas Sunday evening. But it feels now, 18 years later, like a beginning. A horrible, ugly beginning. Punctuated regularly by other horrible, disgusting, heart-wrenching events that only seem to serve as semicolons. This run-on sentence is never done. The story, never ending.

It is 7:30 am when Jonathan takes his phone back, shaking his head as he puts on his shoes. My mouth is still agape. I am now on my phone, trying to watch a live broadcast on NPR while my sons climb all over me thinking it’s a video for them to watch. I give up and put it down because I don’t want any of them to witness that. It’s time to say goodbye.

I cradle Russell’s precious face in my hands and look at his eyes. He is seven years old. He is in the first grade. He is the same age that many of the victims at Sandy Hook Elementary school were when that horrible thing happened in 2012. He is old enough that I can clearly see my baby boy has evaporated before my eyes into someone who is a small child. Not a baby, not a toddler, and only a few brief, precious years before he morphs yet again into a pre-teen. But the cheeks and pursed smile are still quite baby-ish. He is the age where I get glimpses of his babyhood, the present day, and the future all at once.

Do I tell him that there are awful, evil people in the world? I think he knows, but does he really understand? CAN he really understand, or will I just be wasting my ragged breath again? Do I tell him that if he ever hears what sounds like fireworks that he should run? Do I tell him when he is supposed to hide, when he is to run, and when he is to be completely silent (almost an impossibility at his age)? My husband and I joke while watching “The Walking Dead” sometimes that we’d be toast in the event of an actual zombie apocalpyse because we have three loud, crazy kids and the zombie would hear and see us from a mile away. But really…what the hell do I tell my seven year old? Do I tell him nothing at all?

“Hide behind a metal desk if you can.”
“Don’t make a single sound. Don’t even breath loud.”
“Run until you cannot hear the sound of gunfire anymore.”

I do not know what I can tell him, what I should tell him.

These are not actual questions for you, by the way. You don’t have the answer to them anymore than I do. You don’t hold anymore wisdom than I do about what the hell to tell a seven year old about how to survive and escape an active shooter in their school, in a store, at a music event. I know, because I’m his mother and I would bleed everywhere and die a horrific death for him, and believe me if there was a fail-safe answer I’d fucking have it right now. And so would every mother who lost a child yesterday. But that answer doesn’t exist. So do not come at me with your sage “wisdom.”

I have no patience for people so arrogant that they believe they can outsmart death; I have no understanding for people who believe they actually can control everything around them.

And so I say nothing except “I love you so much, buddy.” I do nothing, except to stare at my sweet eldest boy for a little longer than I normally would, hold his face a little longer, kiss him extra, and then send him off to school.

I am no gun expert. I did not serve in the military. I do not truck around with a sticker that proudly declares “Moaone Aabe.” But I have been around guns most all my life.

Growing up, I walked by the same four rifles on my way out the sliding glass door just about every single morning. I didn’t really know how to load or shoot them at the time, but I knew that they weren’t for me to touch – and so for whatever reason, I just never did. I knew the bullets were in the cabinet right below the guns. It never even occurred to me that the guns might or might not be loaded. I legitimately have no idea, to this day, if they were.

Watching video of what happened in Las Vegas, how it all unfolded, I heard a familiar sound. I remember that beating drum in my chest. In my life, there have been several instances where I have been in the midst of gunfire. I don’t really know how much danger I was *technically* in, but then again I guess it’s hard to tell when you can’t see the shooter and you don’t get shot. I’m sure there’s some asshole “expert” who could go back and systematically designate for me how much danger I was in. Oh, you experts…I’m thankful for you in a way, but also intensely irritated. I find everyone is an expert these days. I’m fine saying I am not.

One instance occurred practically in my front yard when I was maybe 7 or 8 years old. Some sort of beef taking place between two parties out on the street in front of our house – maybe drugs or something, I never found out. I just remember getting down behind furniture, shots ringing out. The second instance occurred when I was 17 years old in Pawley’s Island at the site of Alice Flagg’s grave. Probably a cantankerous neighbor who didn’t like teenagers regularly showing up in the graveyard next door to spin around the burial site of a local legend. He may have been firing in the air, for all I know. He may have been a she, for all I know. It was a really shitty time to not have keyless entry, I do know that. Unlocking a car manually while being maybe-possibly shot at is challenging to say the least. The third instance occurred when I lived with my friend in college. We had a third-floor apartment in a complex near the college. Probably just another beef between two parties, several shots fired, not a huge thing. I don’t even think anyone was injured. I army-crawled over to the window to look out (like an idiot, obviously) and see what was going on and it was already over. Cars peeling out and away, no explanation.

I was unscathed mentally, emotionally, and physically. These were all pretty forgettable circumstances.

Mostly, I remember the first and only time in my life that I’ve heard an actual automatic rifle. Not a semi-automatic. An actual, fully automatic something-or-other (I don’t the name because I don’t effing care). I was at a gun range here in town that has them for people who want to “experience” what it’s like to shoot them. I guess that’s on some peoples’ bucket lists, which is their business.

What I will never forget is the excitement everyone seemed to have about it. The air in the room grew heavier. I felt perplexed in a way. Everyone seemed to stand back. We knew it would be loud. I’ll never forget that thumping in my chest. Like a drum, beating over and over. Why was this such a big thing? Was it because it was taboo, the subject of contentious debate? Were we supposed to feel more American now? Was it because it was inherently thrilling in a way to be that close to something so instantly lethal? I do not have the answer to that, either.

But the sound stays with you. It will stay with every person who witnessed what happened in Las Vegas. It will ring in my ears the next time I go to a large concert venue and look around for the closest exits and escape routes, the closest barricade that I can run behind if I ever need to. The sound will erupt in the background of Eagles of Death Metal’s cover of “Save a Prayer” everytime it pops up on my Spotify playlist. Jason Aldean will never be able to sing that particular line of that particular song again and not hear that sound.

And we will fight. Oh, the battle that will rage on. The quotations and conveniences that will be pulled out of our collective pockets in the moment and then shoved away for the next semicolon.

And so I wait. For the videos to stop playing. for the next semi-colon in this run on sentence, as we all do. And it will come. And we will not be any closer to having the answers than we are now.

What really happens when you’re expecting your third baby.

 

I used to think back before kids that by the time I was expecting my third baby, I’d be enamored with my kids and motherhood (not all the time, but most of the time), and that I’d just be such a total natural, and that all the answers would flow into my brain with the same ease as oxygen into my lungs. I envisioned myself caring for multiple small children, while practicing babywearing in a sling for a minimum of 4-6 hours per day and calmly handling all kinds of tasks.

…This is not the case. This is also purely my own experience and findings, colored by my own background and pet peeves – so it’s also not a perfect case-study for someone considering getting themselves into “outnumbered” territory. So here it goes.

 

When you’re expecting your third baby, you will really need a support system. And if you don’t have that, or much of one, you’re going to feel alone and angry and also unsure if you have a reason to feel that way. You’re going to be resentful. And you’re going to want to roll your eyes (or worse) when someone chirps that “It takes a village,” because the truth is, that “village” turned into a gated suburb a long, long time ago.

When you’re expecting your third baby, you will need to be at the point of screaming, crying, or throwing things before people around you realize you need help, that you’re cracking, that you’re terrified. Or that you just simply can’t take one. more. thing. And that’s gonna piss you off.

When you’re expecting your third baby, you won’t really get much time or energy to connect with that baby during the pregnancy. You’ll forget you’re pregnant a lot of days (until you want a beer), and wonder – or even beat yourself up about – why you’re feeling like death warmed over. “Geez, what is wrong with me,” you’ll wonder, followed by an “…Ohhh, right.” It won’t be the first thing you think of when you wake up every morning, unless you just happen to wake up with heartburn, nausea, or a foot in your ribs. And while you’ll console yourself in the first trimester by saying it will feel more “real” once you’re showing, that’s not always the truth – and you may just find yourself too overwhelmed by the amount of “real” running around you all day (i.e. other kids, work, etc.) to notice that you’re actually growing a person.

When you’re expecting your third baby – and I want you to get this part, if you get nothing else in this post – NOBODY will see you. I mean, come on, how entitled can you be? You want people to stop getting in your personal space at Walmart, breathing down your neck at checkout registers, veering closer to you with their two-ton trucks when you are walking outdoors, or running you over at the grocery store (this is especially true for elderly folks…they have literally zero effs to give about flattening you, trust me on this one, trust me 1000 times over)? Geez, you’ve done this before, right? You should know the drill by now, and if you protest any of these rude and careless behaviors out loud, well you really need to get control of those raging pregnancy hormones. Bitch.

Never.

When you’re expecting your third baby, you will be tired, all the time. You will also lose whatever filter you still had the first and second time around when people make rude, crude, or just plain ridiculous comments. This includes the following gems:

  •  “You’re gonna be outnumbered!” (Wait…3 > 2? What?)

Said the asshole.

  • “Better hope this one sleeps.” (Sleep? Huh?)
  • “Do you know what causes that?” (Yes, you pervert…and we’re very good at it. Would you like to watch?)
  • “Man, are y’all aiming for a basketball team?” (What does this even mean?)
  • “Well hey, the good news is that this one will just fall out.” (Thank you, for this creepy and not-at-all-scientific comment on the current tautness of my vagina, as if you’d know. May you lose a toenail in a horrific flip-flop accident on this day.)
  • “How are you going to put them through college?” (Gee, I didn’t think about that…how are you going to continue taxing a broken social security system that I’m paying into but will never reap the benefits of? And who again was it that caused the college loan bubble that took off at the same pace and schedule as the subprime mortgage crisis?)
  • “I know two ultrasounds and a professionally trained doctor and ultrasound tech have all confirmed there’s just one baby, but I say it’s twins!” (*firing up chainsaw*)

…I could go on. And it’s useless to point it out, because most people don’t have the awareness to know that they aren’t helping. Because helping for helpings’ sake is kind of like emotional welfare, and people get really skeevy about that. Most people won’t realize that all you really need to hear from them is that you can do this. That’s something I really try to make a point to do for every expectant mom I know (especially the first-timers, GOD, the first-timers need that boost so much because the same jackwagons above are the ones telling them they’re doomed to no sex life and a horrific birth experience). What people are too arrogant and ignorant to realize is that the best thing they can say is this:

“You will find your way.”

Because when you’re expecting your third baby, you will be equally, if not even moreso terrified than you ever were with the first or second. You know by now that having your third doesn’t mean you have all the answers – it just clarifies for you, in a very humbling way, that you don’t know what you’re doing. Sure, you know how to handle a Level 8 Nuclear Diaper Blow-Out. You know how long a formula bottle keeps versus a pumped breastmilk bottle.

But the answers? How to navigate your husband’s “Good Old Boy” office politics with the changing roles of dads in the here and now? How to weigh the financial cost of an epidural on your craptastic insurance (WHY, NO, I WILL NOT STOP COMPLAINING ABOUT THAT) with the negligible trade off of not wanting to gnaw your own knuckle off mid-labor? How to raise a tiny person into a fully functioning adult?

No clue. We’re winging everything. And we’re not always gonna nail it.

Again, you will go to a hospital, birth center, the back of a minivan on the side of I-85, or wherever it is that fate should choose for you to pop this (obviously unplanned) baby out (cause nobody ever intentionally has more than 2 kids, right? Right?). Again you will debate whether you should experience natural childbirth one time, just for the breadth of experience in a lifetime you will get but one chance at, or if you should opt for the epidural that feels like a tropical vacation when you’re stuck at 6 cm. Or maybe you get put in a really crappy, upsetting emergency situation where lives are at stake and it’s all you can do to process that and just breathe. Maybe you go for the planned repeat c-section, or whatever other methods of fetal exit people are debating the virtues of these days (I don’t have cable TV anymore, so fill me in).

Again, you will welcome the most wonderful little person and be in complete amazement, so deeply in love that you can’t contain it, so thankful, and so unable to imagine life without them.

Again, you will pack up and head home, new baby in an infant carseat, and look at the nurses and doctors on your way out as if to say “ARE YOU REALLY LETTING ME GO HOME WITH THIS?!”

And again, you will be exhausted, frustrated, and alone. And overflowing with love for your kids. But somehow, that last part is what will get you from here to eternity. And that is what really happens when you’re expecting your third baby.