The Irrational and Rational

It's hard to tell my brain to turn off those irrational fears because they seem rational.

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Yesterday, I went to a little dance performance at my daughter’s summer camp.

Each week of camp has a different theme and this week’s theme was “movement.” Parents were invited to come to the classroom on Friday to see what the kids had been practicing all week.

I almost forgot. I had been picking up groceries for the week and lost track of time. Upon pulling into the driveway, I realized that I needed to be leaving for the school at exactly that moment. I tossed the groceries into the mudroom, hopped back into the van, and sped toward the school.

Going into school buildings is a rarity for me since the onset of the pandemic. To minimize the spread of Covid, parents were not allowed into the schools in our area unless absolutely necessary. I’d been in my daughter’s classroom three times since she resumed preschool in April of 2021. Only entered my older son’s middle school building once, for parent-teacher conferences. And my younger son’s elementary school once for an open house.

It was drizzling when I arrived at the school The front doors are locked as a safety measure so I stood with another parent while we waited for the office assistant to let us in. We had to be escorted upstairs to the classroom — no one from the outside is allowed to wander the building unattended.

Only about 25% of the parents were masked, myself included. Even with a fully vaccinated family, we’d still like to avoid Covid. I saw my younger son in a neighboring classroom and he waved. His mask was around his chin. I gave him a Look and pointed to my own mask. He quickly drew his up, covering his nose and mouth.

The large group of 4- and 5-year-olds danced to an impressive number of songs, considering they’d only been practicing for a week. My daughter seemed reserved. Not shy or scared, but not her usual exuberant self. During the school year, her teacher told me that it took a long time (months) for her to warm up to her classroom. I wonder how different it would have been if she hadn’t spent a year of her daycare/preschool life at home.

I was a little on edge during the performance. Even with all of the safety precautions, I found myself looking toward the door. Noticing the distance between myself and my daughter. Between the parents and the kids, there were probably 70 people in the room. It felt stifling and… unsafe.

I know it isn’t rational to think that a gunman could enter the school building. The safety protocols were obvious. And yet, I couldn’t stop my mind from wandering to that “what if” scenario. I was recording a video of the dance, but my fears prevented me from being truly present.

At the end, the kids took a giant bow and then ran to their parents. From behind her mask, I could see the shining joy in my daughter’s eyes as she gave me a hug. I choked back tears. My daughter is here, at her school, and some parents in Uvalde, Texas no longer get to hold their babies. The tears were also the manifestation of my fears: a tight hug and a “don’t let her go” moment.

Yet the moment had to end. The kids were rounded up by the teachers and left the classroom through a side door. Once I was in the parking lot, I took several long, deep breaths.

I searched my blog for the word “irrational” — knowing I’ve felt this way before, especially after Nelle and Iris died. One of the posts that came up was from October of 2017. After the mass shooting in Las Vegas.

I wrote yesterday about needing space to recover, to move beyond the irrational fears of our minds and hearts. We never get that space because we’re constantly receiving the next round of devastating news.

It’s hard to tell my brain to turn off those irrational fears because they seem rational. Two things can be true at the same time: that there is little I can control about the world around me and that I still want to do everything I can to keep my family safe from harm. I need to find a balance so that we can live our lives without constantly looking around, waiting for something terrible to happen.

But right now, that is really hard.