He made this revelation even more concrete during dinner tonight. As Dan came in on his dinner break, the first thing Caiden noticed was the small black cuff worn around Dan's badge acknowledging the loss of fellow police officers killed in the line of duty. Year after year, sadly, it comes out. We saw it in 2012 after the deaths of Kevin Ambrose and Jose Torres. We saw it again in 2013 in honor of Sean Collier. And it has now reappeared at the close of 2014.
C: "Dad, there's something on you."
D: "I know, buddy."
C: "What is it?"
D: "Some police officers got hurt so I wear this."
C: "What are their names?"
D: "Officer Liu and Officer Ramos."
C: "How'd they get hurt?"
D: "Don't worry about it, buddy."
C: "Where'd they get hurt?"
D: "They were in a car in the city."
C: "How long did they get hurt for?"
Me: "It was very quick, honey. They didn't feel pain long at all."
C: "Did they go to the hospital?"
C: "I hope they were brave."
Me: "Yes sweetie. All police officers are brave."
C: "Yeah. Like my dad."
It was one of those moments in parenting where you feel like a deer in the headlights. We had a 5-year-old bombarding us with questions. He is an intuitive boy, an inquisitive boy, a boy who won't be appeased with a simple "yes" or "no" answer nonetheless an attempt to change the topic. Dan and I try to be as honest as possible with our kids without corrupting their innocence. Together, we try to open up these discussions to entertain his questions without gruesome details. We've crossed these wobbly bridges of kid-questions with discussions starting with "how'd you get that baby in your belly" and "what are all those rocks [headstones] for"?" While at face value most people would think that tonight's conversation was a relatively sweet exchange in the sense of Caid's genuine concern for Officers Liu and Ramos coupled with his last sentiment filled with pride, I found little solace in it. In fact, it bothered me. Actually, to be completely honest, it angered me.
I have kept my opinions about the chaos that has saturated our country, dividing it into subgroups, fueling fires ignited by racial tensions, prejudices, and overall ignorance, to myself. Black lives matter. Blue lives matter. ALL LIVES MATTER. There is SO MUCH that we don't know about the Ferguson case, the Staten Island case, the cases we have yet to hear about because they just weren't "newsworthy" enough. To the general public, all we know is what we have been fed by the media- an outlet that thrives on drama and "who said it firsts"; an outlet that often releases partial truths in order to gain higher ratings; an outlet that can be biased based on any sort of demographic pending on who signs their paychecks.
Brooklyn is different though.
There is no arguing the senselessness of it all. There was no prior altercation. It was a public execution of two men who had dedicated their lives to serve others. Two men who were the first to respond when others cried for help. Two men with families who they most likely bid a casual "goodbye" to as they walked out the door that morning to begin their shift-- a gesture they, like so many, took for granted under the assumption that they would return.
Dan used to roll his eyes at me almost daily in the early years of our relationship when I would kiss him on his way out the door and say, "Be safe" (rather than "goodbye") as he left for work. After Caiden was born, he laid off the eye-rolling because he understood the stakes were higher. Even in a quiet suburb danger lurks. The longer he is on the force, the more he sees what craziness, recklessness, and danger can that can unfold. A simple road job directing traffic can easily turn fatal with one distracted driver speeding through a work zone while texting. There are the drunk drivers on the road and the angry drunks that want to fight when they are taken in to get booked. There are people who hurt so much they threaten bodily harm and are armed with the weapons to do so. We have drug dealings, domestic violence, robberies, and car chases in this little neck of suburbia. And then there are the other dangers that don't start out as malicious. The house fires, the downed electrical wires, the natural disasters, the car accidents, the exposure to bodily fluids spewn by the sick (or, at times, deceased). The only night that I don't have that quiet ball of worry and anxiety in my gut is on "Night 4", when Dan is assigned to desk work. And, in general, there is a sound that all spouses of police officers can identify a mile away and greet with a sigh of thanksgiving and relief: that of the thick Velcro being pulled apart as a bulletproof vest is being removed and hung up for the day. It is THAT sound that lets me sleep in peace and breathe a little easier. At least for a few more hours.
The men and women who have dedicated their lives and careers to helping others are a special breed. They see things and do things that most of us couldn't stomach or wrap our heads around. They put their own lives on the line each and every workday in order to make the rest of us safer, happier. Are their a few bad apples in the barrel? Of course. No profession or race or religion is without. But let me say this: Not every cop is killer. Not every African-American man is a thug. Not every priest is a pedophile.
When will this madness end?
When will the violence stop and the conversations start to happen? Not the conversations to argue "who did what" and "which is better", but the conversations to rally for peace and change and common ground?
When will my little boy be able to not have to worry whether or not his daddy will come home after work?
There are simply no easy answers. So in the meantime, I guess I will continue to let my son grow up and move on to more "mature" things at his own developmentally-appropriate pace. I will ease up the reigns of trying to keep him little and innocent and allow him to ask questions and answer them to the best of my ability, giving him truth without trauma. And I will let him understand and continue to believe that superheroes are real whether it be "Spiderman" on TV or the man who sits next to him at dinner.