Shadows Around the Edges
Written by Kate Parlin
“Is this a daycare?”
There’s a woman I don’t know, wearing a huge, grubby T-shirt, leaning on my fence, looking over my yard.
“Oh, no – haha. I’m sure it looks like one, but no. I live here.”
“It looks like a daycare. I thought it was a daycare.”
She makes a squinty, slack-mouthed face at me and then looks down at her phone. She’s still leaning on my fence.
“Yeah, well, it’s just my house.”
I feel awkward so I turn away to yell a futile and unnecessary “be careful!” at one of my kids.
The woman is still just there, at my fence, doing something with her phone. She doesn’t seem altogether, um, well. I mean, is she looking for a daycare for her child? Does she have a degree in Early Childhood Education and just happened to wander by while scouting for a new job? Is curiosity about our heaps of bikes and slides and kid-sized lawn furniture really all that’s brought her here? I decide that I don’t need to engage her any further so I mumble something about getting back to the kids in hopes that she just leaves. She does.
My encounter with this woman was puzzling and awkward, but she wasn’t threatening, exactly. She mostly just seemed a bit dim. I felt uncomfortable, though, talking with a stranger who approached my fence (and walked all the way up my driveway to do so) as my kids ran and played. It was invasive.
Just two days later, a police officer appears in my driveway to drop off a sheet of paper with a photo of a shifty-looking middle-aged man. It’s a mug shot. He’s a registered sex offender, and he has apparently just moved in down the street. Great. The kind of neighbor that absolutely no mom wants to have.
But what can you do?
A few weeks went by and I was pushing my kids on the swings one morning when I see him—the sex offender—walking along on the sidewalk. I busy myself chatting up the girls and try not to think about it. I don’t know any details about his criminal history. I don’t want to.
I am aware that just because I know about his presence, just because he’s registered, doesn’t mean that he’s any more dangerous than some other random person who could walk by my house anytime. Still though, I wish he would move away from here so I don’t have to feel an ugly knot of fear in my stomach while I’m talking about beautiful leaves on a beautiful day with my beautiful girls.
I hate these reminders of my vulnerability as a parent. I work so hard to keep my children safe and happy; it’s unsettling when these kinds of shadows creep in around the edges of our sunny days.
The thing about having a sex offender down the street isn’t that I’m worried about him, exactly. But his presence reminds me of the fears for my children that are always there, hanging out in my head, waiting for a quiet moment to slip out of the shadowy corners and into the forefront of my consciousness.
One quiet December not long after I became a mother, when motherhood’s roller coaster emotions were still fairly new to me, I finished nursing my eight-month-old twins and put them down for a nap. I picked up my phone and started idly scrolling through Facebook, looking for a little interaction with friends, hoping for some updates from the world outside of my diaper-filled existence. Instead, I read that a man walked into an elementary school in Connecticut and violently took the lives of children. Children. Children whose parents loved them fiercely, just as I love mine. He took away their children. My God—those parents.
The tragedy of the families in Newtown shook me deeply. I haven’t in fact, even been able to write about it until now. For months afterward, I would cry, instantly, every time I remembered that I was raising children in a world where this had happened. I know that terrible things have happened, throughout history, to millions of children. Humans doing despicable things to other humans isn’t a new phenomenon. But this one happened in my formative months as a parent, and I think it has affected me in ways I haven’t even fully come to terms with.
Now that I’m a parent, I am painfully aware that there are forces in this world capable of devastating me in a way that they never could have before. Sometimes I wake, shaking, from nightmares where I dreamt that my children had drowned. I worry about sending them to friends’ houses for sleepovers when they get older, about thin ice and water skis and dangerous dogs and drunk drivers.
My love for my children is huge, and raw, and has made me so completely vulnerable.
As hard as it is though, I know that in a way, it’s good to be reminded of this vulnerability. It’s good to put my fears into words so that I can remember to be vigilant, to use caution and good judgment, even as I try to trust and connect with my fellow humans. That’s just part of being a parent, of being a person.
I also know that when it comes to neighbors, I am fortunate to be surrounded by good people. Just next door is a woman who knew and loved my grandparents and who, for some reason, finds my dogs charming. Across the street is one of my very best friends. We share laughs, wine, coffee, and tears, and we help each other with kids and laundry and life. And there are at least five other houses right here on my street full of kind, helpful people. But now there’s one that’s different from all the rest. One that used to be home to a young family, and now just looks dark, even on the brightest of days.
It’s really hard to protect our children without being overprotective. To expect them to say hello and be polite to people, but not to trust just anyone. To teach them to have a healthy fear of strangers, but not one that’s anxiety-inducing. To show them that the world is full of wonder, beauty, and love, but make sure they know that it can also be dangerous, ugly, and mean.
That responsibility is enormous. I’m never sure if I’m doing this right or not.
I just love my little hooligans so damn much.
This is not a daycare. It’s my life, my heart – climbing, running, and swinging all over this yard.
About the Author: Kate Parlin is a writer and mom of three girls, two of whom are twins. She is a former high school English teacher who now uses her love of words to chronicle her parenting adventures – the funny, the frustrating, and the infuriating – at her blog, Shakespeare’s Mom. Her writing has been featured online at The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, Redbook, and In the Powder Room, and in print in Pregnancy and Newborn Magazine, Peninsula Kids, and in two forthcoming parenting anthologies. Follow along with her shenanigans on Facebook and Twitter!