Muscle Memory

Recently, a group of friends and I were talking about preparing for different things in life. This topic was sparked by several things. Like, the fact that they have been having training drills at local elementary schools, because some terrible person, or persons, have been phoning in threats to our children by saying that there is an active shooter on the roof of their school. Our school. Suddenly, these little bodies that carry with them all of our hopes and dreams for the present and future, are herded to the floor, doors locked, lights out, to lay quietly while their teacher reads.

It feels like the most macabre game of hide and seek I can imagine. And it shakes me. It makes me entertain thoughts of homeschooling, and too many what ifs. Truthfully, I cannot let my thoughts about it unspool very far, or I would become so entangled in their threads of possibility and pain, that I could not move. I have to keep going. Life will not sit down and wait while I panic. It will trudge forward whether we are ready or not. Our local authorities know this, and so they train.

An ex-Navy Seal told my friend that if you haven’t done it before you are in shock, your body will not be able to do it when you are. Even if you know in your head or heart what to do, without muscle memory, it is almost impossible. I didn’t have the words to go along with this knowledge, but I had already learned this, firsthand.

About a year and a half ago, one of my then five year old twins, fell off the toilet while using it. I went into the bathroom to see what happened, picked her up, and helped her back onto the toilet. I was thinking, Gosh, she feels warm, and she fell to the floor again, this time silently. Quickly scooping her into my arms, I headed towards the bathroom door. Which is where I was when her eyes rolled to the back of her head, and her body began violently seizing.

I had trained for this in my Infant and Child CPR and First Aid classes recently, and in my First Rescuer classes years ago. I laid her down in a safe, clear, spot on the floor and did not let anyone touch her. I looked at the clock, because time was suddenly important. I grabbed my phone, but could not get my fingers to do more than unlock the screen. I called to my friend who was there to babysit for me, as I had been just about to leave, for some event that no longer mattered. I felt my body tense and become hollow and useless, as I watched my daughter’s continued thrashing. When my friend ran into the room, I said, “I need to call 911, but I can’t remember the number.” Only remembering as I said it, that those are the numbers that I needed to dial. Even then, I felt as if I was slogging my way through unseen quicksand, my hands and fingers foreign and new.

So I get it. I want them to practice. I want the police officers, SWAT team, sheriff, city, county, teachers, principal, and everyone who has the ability to, to train faithfully in order to protect my children. And your children, of course, as well as the rest of us.

The thing is, now I’m wondering. What have I been practicing? What have I been training myself to do so that it becomes second nature?

I try so hard at almost everything I do. But especially, at this parenting thing. I try to be patient and loving, kind, and selfless. I try to laugh through the craziness that comes with raising children. I try to be diplomatic in my teaching five little dictators to be democratic. I try. I try. I try. And still, sometimes I fail.

It kills me, when I make a mistake. When I misspeak or have a sharp edge to what I say, when I spend too much time looking at my phone and too little time cherishing their little faces. Or, worst of all, when I move gracelessly through my day without humor and kindness, when I could so easily be dancing in the living room with these beautiful children who trust me.

Thankfully, those days are the exception, not the rule. Even on the worst days, the days where everything seems to be going wrong and I want to cry out that I don’t know what to do, some part of me takes over. But it’s even bigger than me. I might be standing in the kitchen, looking over a sea of cheerios on the floor, after cleaning the house for hours, having paused many times to love my two year old through several fits, or dealt with my older children fighting all. day. long, about everything they can think of. I might feel a terrible stress/anger/exhaustion cocktail being poured over me. But then I am not alone. Suddenly all that time spent hugging and kissing and laughing with my children comes through. The bedtime stories, and inside jokes, the sweetest memories, and messiest handmade gifts, they’ve been building something stronger. Something that endures.

It saves me. It saves us, this love muscle that we’ve spent years working. It enables us to lift up the day, gives us the stamina to keep moving forward, together. It holds us, long after we have let go of anger and fear and worry. And, yes, swept up the cheerios.

I pray that the trainings at my children’s school are never tested. That we will all live the kind of lives that are filled to the brim with kindness. That our memories will serve us well. And that our strongest flexing will show rep after rep of I love you’s.

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