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This evening my daughter and are off to have a Girls Night Out. My husband is out in Boston with his teacher colleagues so the two of us decide to do something special too. I Nature Photographypick her up from art class at 5.30 and we drive to Chili’s. She had originally wanted Chinese, but changes her mind on the drive and asks for a bacon cheeseburger.

We get seated at Chili’s right away, in a 4-top booth. She wants to sit on the same bench with me, so we throw the coats on the other bench and snuggle up. She may or may not have noticed that I hug her even more than usual. We order our drinks and dinners, joke around and discuss the X-Men, since she’s just been reading a comic about them the day before. Our dinners come soon enough and we dig in.

Across the restaurant in the bar, the TV screen is filled with President Obama, looking old, shocked and haggard, giving a press conference. On the sound system John Lennon starts singing “Merry Christmas (War is Over).”

A very merry Christmas 
And a happy New Year 
Let’s hope it’s a good one 
Without any fear

My breath catches in my throat at that moment and it’s all I can do not to sob into my tacos. But my girl doesn’t know what happened earlier today in Connecticut, and I’m not about to burden her with it on our fun night out. She is a thoughtful and empathetic and deeply emotional child, and she’ll hear about the horror soon enough. I pull myself together, smile at her, and continue talking about Storm and Rogue and Wolverine.

After dinner we head to the nearby movie theater to see Rise of the Guardians. The film is about Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, Sandman and Jack Frost (AKA “The Guardians”) and how they must protect children and keep them safe from the Bogeyman and his evil nightmares. At the end (SPOILER ALERT) they’re able to vanquish the Bogeyman by showing kids that his horrors aren’t real and they have nothing to fear from them.

But what can you do when the fears – and the Bogeyman – are real? When you’re a parent, your deepest, most visceral drive is protect your children and keep them safe. But how do you protect them from mentally ill men with rifles, or child molesters masquerading as friends or uncles, or drunk drivers? How do you keep them safe from all the (very real) fears and horrors out there in the world?

Here’s the Awful Truth – you can’t. You can’t protect your children. You can’t keep them safe from people out there who may do them grievous harm. Around the world, people strive, and fail, to protect their children from hunger, and war, and other cataclysmic events that engulf them. You can’t even protect your kids from less dramatic hurts, like a rejection letter from the college of the their choice, or a genetic condition, or a broken heart. As much as you want it, as much as every atom of your being is straining to keep them safe, happy and healthy, you just can’t do it.

This sounds like permission to give up and fall into despair, fellow parents (and other adults), but it isn’t. Because here’s what you can do. You can’t protect your kids from the horrors and dangers of the world, but you can teach them to be strong and courageous. You can teach them to live their principles and follow their dreams. You can teach them resilience, helping them face the perils that beset them and assuring them you’ll always be there for them, no matter what. And if The Unthinkable happens and you lose them, you will need every bit of that strength and resilience you’ve been trying to pass along. Above all, you can love them and teach them to love others with clear eyes and open hearts. And that love can grow and be a Beautiful Truth that brings a little extra light and joy to a world in desperate need of both.

[My heart goes out to the families and people in Newtown tonight. I pray so fervently for you in this dark time.]

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