By Betsy Fife Archer
It seems disingenuous to write about anything other than Newtown. Everything else seems like filler. I know this won’t always be true, but it is today. From 800 miles away, I have been fundamentally changed by the events of December 14th. Upon first hearing the news, I collapsed in a semi-hysterical mass on my kitchen floor while my toddler slept safely two rooms away. I called his other mother, yearning to not be alone in the profundity of this tragedy. As I was explaining to her what happened through my sobs, I questioned my reaction. Of course, what happened was beyond any level of hell or the rules of war and feeling sad would be expected.
But what I discovered in those few minutes was that I was now a parent who has no idea how to keep her child safe, and that is terrifying. Do I enshroud my son in a cloak of fear so that he will stay in the house and away from the windows? No, because that would damage his burgeoning sense of adventure. Do I never allow him to go to public places? No, because his eyes are wide open with daily new discovery. Do I make sure he trusts no one because they could be the next shooter? No, because that would hamper his ability to explore his love of other people. Do I tell him about how, in the bookstore the other day, I looked for good places to hide and tried to spot the young man with the coat a little too big for his body? No, because fear can breed fear and cover a person in darkness and he is so full of light. So I am left where I started, with not knowing how to proceed.
How do I make sure my son, my beautiful, joyful, silly boy, does not turn into a monster? I can guarantee that the parents of these killers had no idea when they were two that they would ever commit such heinous acts. How do I ensure that my boy has the freedom to express himself in healthy ways? How do I ensure he grows into a kind man?
A few days ago, I was mostly worrying about whether or not my son will ever be mad at me because he has a donor and not a dad. I worried about how he will be received by other kids in our southern town when asked about his family he responds, “I have two mamas.” I worried about how he sometimes runs into doors, “Is that normal?” and how he has had more food-strikes lately. I worried about him letting the cat out the front door or if he will get enough sleep tonight. I guess that is all still there, but unmagnified as parents in Newtown start to bury their babies in tiny, tiny coffins.
I know that the anguish of what has occurred will fade faster for me than for those connected to a family who lost a daughter, a son or a mother. For that I feel grateful and guilty, but mostly grateful. I have time to figure out if there are answers to my questions. Meanwhile, I hug my son a little tighter and tell him he is my favorite thing about every day and hope that is enough.
Betsy Fife Archer holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology and a Master of Social Work degree from Smith College. She has spent seven years as a therapist working with children, adolescents and families of all configurations in various contexts. She has presented to college audiences in Massachusetts and North Carolina around being a queer parent, being in a long-term relationship and working against unjust laws that make her marriage in legal limbo outside of the northeast. She is a founding member of YouthPride, a queer youth organization started in Atlanta in 1995 that continues to this day. Betsy continues to volunteer her time with the Campaign for Southern Equality, an organization based in Asheville North Carolina which serves to promote the “full humanity and equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in American life and to increase public support for LGBT rights.” Betsy is also an active artist specializing in hand-hooked rugs, fine art embroidery and wedding photography. Betsy teaches fiber arts workshops across the south and photographs weddings wherever someone will pay her to go. Betsy lives in Asheville, NC with her partner of more than 15 years and their amazing toddler son. Betsy is working with her friend and fellow blogster, Charlotte Caponga-Amias, on a guidebook about becoming a queer, non-gestational parent. She and Charlotte blog at turkeybasterandabottleofwine.wordpress.com.