The changes of parenthood
I’m sitting at my desk this afternoon, rushing to get caught up before a meeting so I can rush to finish afterward, and a call comes over the police scanner. Vehicle versus train on Claribel Road.
It’s always phrased that way: Vehicle versus train, vehicle versus tree, etc. It’s a coping mechanism. Within an hour, still in the “vehicle versus train” mode, I was posting the early report on modbee.com.
A woman and four people in her sport utility vehicle had died. We heard rumors children were involved.
Possibly very young children.
And that’s when I made the mistake of climbing into the driver’s seat of that SUV. Did she know this was it? Did she have time to say good-bye to her babies, to get in one last “I love you”?
People ask how parenthood changes you, and you mention the obvious: Lack of sleep, time and money. The deeper changes are inside. You feel things differently.
The thoughts running through my mind today wouldn’t have occurred to me before I became a mother.
Today, I tettered on losing my grip. I’ve only done that four times in my career. Three were stories involving children.
The first was when I was 23 and assigned to talk to a family waiting by a river for emergency workers to find their sons. A group had gone on a summer picnic a few days earlier, and the boys had fallen in. At that point, it was clear crews were looking for bodies.
The mother sat alone on a rock, about 50 yards from the river and everyone else. I will never forget her look of grief and disbelief. Did she want to talk, I asked. No, she said. I apologized for intruding and retreated.
At that age, I could only guess what she was going through. Even today, I can’t know what it would be like to lose both my boys in an instant. But I can come closer to imagining it. And I can feel it.
The second time was about a year after that. The son of a county commissioner – the West Virginia equivalent of the Board of Supervisors – had pleaded guilty to murder after killing his mother and seriously wounding his father. My assignment: Talk to a man who had buried his wife and lost his only child to 25 to 48 years in prison.
The interview started with a politico's bluff and bluster – he hadn’t gotten to where he was by being a softy. By the end, he was crying. I did, too, after I got back to my car. I had no idea what he was going through, but I could see the pain, raw and real. But it didn’t occur to me to imagine the day a mommy and daddy had brought their baby home from the hospital and wonder what had happened in the intervening years to lead to where it did. These days, I wonder often.
The third time was when I was about five months pregnant with Big Guy and editing stories about Megan Mendez, a little girl whose drug-addicted mother turned her over to the couple who tortured the child to death.
I read the Child Protective Services reports and saw pictures of a happy toddler with a caring foster mother who had been eager to adopt her.
I came home one day and went straight to bed. “What’s wrong?” my husband asked. “Do you know what I did all day? I read about a beautiful little girl who was murdered. Do you hear me? I spent the whole day talking about a dead baby.”
The fourth time was when Scott Peterson’s guilty verdict came in. I was two months pregnant with Little Guy and Big Guy was almost 1½.
I didn’t even make it to my bedroom that evening. I walked through the door and wept for two lost lives, for a baby boy who never had a chance.
Not long after that, a young reporter who'd covered a particularly brutal string of crimes asked me if it ever gets easier.
Well, yes and no. Yes, because you learn more coping mechanisms: Vehicle versus train.
But, no, because you’re human. And on a certain level, you don’t want it to get easier. Because that means you’ve lost something.
And if you ever become a parent, it will become exponentially harder.
Copyright 2007 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.