This post was published in the Blogs Section of The Nation post the horrific attacks in Peshawar on December 16.
What do you do on an ordinary day?
Moms like to crib that their ordinary day is not like any other ordinary day. Where single individuals and couples with no kids wake up to the sound of their alarms or the luxury of their own personal schedules, moms wake up to the sound of a crying infant or an antsy toddler or a kid who has decided to wake up at the crack of dawn because he feels like it today.
What does an ordinary mom do on an ordinary day?
She wakes up, just like me, dresses her kid, gives him/her breakfast, the teeth are brushed, the hair is combed, the van honks or the car begins to start, the routine has begun.
And when December 16th began it was just another ordinary day. For me, for moms all around the world, for moms in Peshawar.
As the daughter of a journalist who began his career as a crime reporter, someone who grew up in the 90s, someone who has gone through muggings and whose earliest memories are of trying to lay low as the streets of Karachi were filled with bullets – I’ve always prided myself as somewhat hardened when it comes to taking in horrible news. However, since the day I have become a parent, news hits me differently.
And so, as I went about my ordinary day in my very ordinary life, I received a hoarse call from my husband who told me he was in tears at the news. “What news,” I asked, confused. “They’re killing children, M,” he said. “What? Where?” I asked, still confused. His voice broke. “Peshawar. Switch on the tv.”
As the television began filling up with grisly scenes and reports of the death toll mounting, I could feel tears streaming down my face without even realizing it. My eyes kept flitting towards my young son, barely five, happily watching Barney and Friends. I kept hugging him every few minutes, every chance I got, forgetting every naughty thing he had done that he usually does on an ‘ordinary’ day. I kept holding him close, closer than close. As if someone would barge into my house and shoot at us too. And as if my hugs would protect him from everything evil. The same evil that was barraging through the gates of Army Public School, Peshawar.
My husband returned home from work early, stating that he couldn’t concentrate, his eyes were wet with tears, bloodshot. He entered the home and I hugged him, as if more hugs could save our children, all our children.
The death toll kept rising. 84, said the CM, KPK.
We sat motionless, helpless, staring at our TV screens. Our son continued jumping here and there, climbing on sofas, drinking his juice, giggling at his tablet, yapping away with Barney. I hugged him again. On an ordinary day, I would have scolded him to sit in one place, drink his juice, I would have taken away his tablet and my husband would have grown annoyed by the constant jibber jabber. On that day, my son came and sat next to me and I kissed his cheeks, the top of his brown-haired head.
The death toll reached one hundred and thirty.
I saw disturbing images, the whole world saw them. The bloody children. The frantic parents. The parents who were stricken with grief, a kind of grief I was unable to comprehend. The kind of grief I could only express by needlessly kissing my son, by constantly crying, food was tasting like sawdust. I kept him home from school the next day, telling the school I needed him at home (when they inquired to ask why he wasn’t in school, standard practice). I needed to hug my child today more than ever, I told them.
That parent could have been me. That child could have been mine. As I type these words, my son roams around me again, and I can feel my heart constricting. I cannot even bring myself to type, to imagine let alone face the grief of losing a child. And on that day, Pakistan lost one hundred and thirty two children.
One hundred and thirty two parents now have to deal with the idea that there will be no ordinary days anymore. Their heart will always bleed. That’s how much you love your child. That’s what happens when you become a parent. Your heart is always disputed territory. No matter how much you claim that you have kept it inside your chest, it goes on, as someone once said, walking outside of your body in the shape of your children. When you become a parent, it is akin to wearing a target sign on your heart, because that’s how vulnerable you become. Being a parent teaches you that your humanity is not limited to your own existence – but connected to others outside of your body and soul.
And it was this terrible, powerful connection that reverberated through every parent on the globe on the day of December 16th. It was a connection that was felt in the trembling voices, messages, vigils, statements, prayers, condolences that poured in from all over the world to those one hundred plus parents in Peshawar. It was this terrible, intangible yet emotive connection that made every parent kiss his or her child with a lot more love that night. It was this connection that every parent shed a tear at the thought of the grief – a small, tiny, insignificant word – felt by the parents of those children who lost their lives that day.
Of course, the earth continues to spin on its axis. It is yet another morning today, yet another school day for my son, for many sons. Life goes on, they tell everyone, we will go back to the grind. The Mondays and the weekends and the vacations and the scoldings and the schools.
But as a parent – I often feel that jolt. That sudden connection, the grim realization. Sometimes it’s an image on tv. Sometimes it’s the idea of how fragile life is. Sometimes it’s just the feeling of affection I feel for my living, breathing, happy, healthy child.
It is an ordinary day again – the tears have dried, the TV is back to politics and game shows. The kid is back in school. But the jolt has not gone away. And I have a feeling that it never goes away. Not if you are someone with a conscience.
And not ever, if you are a parent.