Howl

Some days
I am more wolf
than woman,
and I am still learning
how to stop apologizing
for my wild.
—Nikita Gill

When the news breaks over NPR, I don’t handle it well. I hear the words “shooting” and “elementary school” and flick the radio off in an instant. Shoulders tense, I ease our SUV forward through a crowded intersection while my mind churns backwards, grasping for names: Stoneman Douglas. Columbine. Sandy Hook. (Later, a principal I know posts on his timeline a list of U.S. schools traumatized by gun violence. It is 245 lines deep.)

“What happened, Mom?” My five-year-old calls out from the backseat of our SUV. His three-month-old brother fusses next to him, hungry.

I stare out at the graveyard we pass daily on our commute home from preschool and try to make sense of this moment. Miles away in Uvalde, Texas, there are moms and dads who won’t pick up their children from school tonight. Oh God, those parents…

“Mom?”

“Something really terrible happened, sweetheart,” I say, keeping my voice steady. I should be trembling, I should be sobbing, but instead I’m numb to this fresh punch of violence (I’m still trying to process/grieve the last two mass shootings). I need to tell my oldest what’s going on, but I can’t bring myself to say it. Not yet.

Last week, we visited his new elementary school for an open house. My incoming kindergartener wore a blue dress shirt and his dad helped him comb and part his golden hair. Hand tight in mine, he roamed the halls, later breaking free to run up the staircase and skim his fingers over the desks in various classrooms. I watched him, so tall and so curious, beaming with pride. How would he grow here? Who would he become?

Today’s news reminds me that kindergarten is the milestone I’ve been dreading since he was a tiny babe fluttering inside my belly. Because I live in the U.S., where we ask school age children to kneel under their desks for active shooter drills and pray ours will be lucky enough to graduate alive rather than make meaningful cultural and legislative changes to prevent school shootings. Statistically, these events are rare but the terror that it could happen to us haunts me. In 2018 with a pack of angry parents, I walked Chicago’s streets holding a sign that read “I’m marching for my son,” hoping against hope that by the time he got to kindergarten our country would address this travesty. Shamefully, we haven’t.

The baby wiggles and fusses in my arms as I unearth him from the carseat to nurse and send his older brother to fetch himself an applesauce. Once they’re fed, I busy myself cooking dinner and scrolling. Distracted, I’m slow to marinate and bake the tofu, and I also miss tired cues from my youngest. When my husband gets home, it’s clear to him the baby needs a nap.

Overtired wails fill the walls of our home but fail to loosen the primal scream caught in my throat. 19 innocent babies gunned down by a guy with an AR-15. Two teachers too. What kind of madness is this? My husband is on baby duty, and I keep fixing dinner, but I want so badly to stop and wail with our child.

When the tofu bowls are ready, I can’t eat. Instead I go to the nursery, scoop up our babe and nurse him down to sleep in the rocking chair, one hand cradling his body while the other grips my smart phone. I scroll, scroll, scroll. I text a friend: I feel gutted. Then I close my apps and make a donation to Everytown for Gun Safety.

For the remainder of the night, I stay there, clutching my youngest. He sleeps comfortably in my arms. I sleep fitfully, waking often to turn the news over in my mind and debate our school choices. Could I homeschool? If I keep my five-year-old here with us will that be enough to keep him safe? Should we relocate to Canada? Like a wolf in her den, I scan my environment for threats, afraid to release my pups because what if they are hunted?

In the morning, I nurse the baby and change his diaper. I make a plan to contact my senators, Dick and Tammy, when the house is quiet. I kiss my eldest twice and hug him hard before he leaves with his dad for preschool. “I love you, Mom!” he cries, light-up Sketchers flashing in the doorway. “I love you too, buddy!” I whisper shakily.

All day I follow news from Robb Elementary, refreshing my Times app for updates between tummy time, naps and breastfeeding. I read about the sweet lives of the lost children and their heroic teachers. I wolf down every bite of the story I can, but my appetite — for what? a reason? a word of hope? — remains unsatisfied. There is one image I can’t get out of my head, a photograph of a woman, possibly a mother, mid-sob, her dark hair spilling over her loved one’s shoulder, where she rests her head. Her eyes are wild; she is part wolf like me. Was this the moment she heard she lost her baby?

I wonder if this is how God cries too — like a bewildered, grieving mother.

In a couple hours, I will pick up my son from preschool again, eyes watery at the sight of him. I will ask him how his day went and make him breakfast for dinner. I will tell him over pancakes what happened at Robb Elementary without giving much detail. “This makes me mad and sad,” he’ll reply. “I’m mad and sad too,” I’ll say. “So is God. God weeps with us.” My son will then ask why it happened. I’ll answer with a half-truth: I don’t know. (I do know that complacency won’t prevent future tragedies. Why are we being held back from common sense gun reform? Why haven’t we seen new mental health initiatives? Why not both? Why do many of our elected officials offer thoughts and prayers then keep doing… nothing?) We’ll hang our heads together. I’ll pray, Lord, those sweet, innocent children — our children — did not deserve this brutal ending. We don’t deserve to live like this. Lord, hear our prayer. Oh Lord, have mercy on us.

I can’t do this.

Not yet.

For the time being, I become a wolf. I hold my baby close and howl.

2 Comments

  1. I am a wolf alongside you.

    Thank you for putting this into words.

    Lots of love Jess (@oldsouldreamer)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Erin Strybis says:

      Thank you for reading and sharing, Jess. We’ll howl together. 😢💛

      Like

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