When the going gets tough, the tough get going

By Lisa Sugarman

I don’t know about you, but with the crazy number of things we, as parents, could agonize over on a daily basis, I try to relegate mine to manageable fears, like head lice, girl drama, my kids eventually having their own credit cards, and everything associated with my daughters dating.

Those are all realistic anxieties. Those are uncertainties that we’re trained to expect as parents. Those are the things we all knew we signed on for. They’re the things we’re equipped to handle, more or less.

So when I drop my kids off at school every day, I’m usually thinking pretty happy thoughts, assuming the fighting in the car has died down to just a jab in the ribs. Because I’ve learned to keep the other little fears we all deal with tucked safely in the back of my mind, behind a steel door that has no doorknob. They’re there and I know it, but they’re things I’m relatively prepared to handle; so it’s easy to keep them in the background and not let them impact my day-to day.

What I’m pretty sure has never crossed my mind, though, as I’m leaving the high school parking lot is, “Wow, I hope my daughter’s physics teacher doesn’t get accused of trafficking child porn today.” I mean it’s just not something the average parent thinks about as they’re pulling away from the curb in the drop-off circle.

As parents, we expect to get hit with the puberty years and the raging hormones and the peer pressure and maybe some low-level lying. We expect that our kids might stay out too late without calling or ride their bikes without a helmet or maybe exceed their texting limit 10-20,000. So as a result, we teach our kids coping skills and how to make smart decisions. We teach them what to do if a strange man asks them to help him find is lost puppy. We teach them how to stop, drop and roll and how to just say “no” and not to be a bystander when someone’s getting bullied.

These are all things we can prepare them for. These are things we can prepare ourselves for. But no one can be prepared for the news that their child’s teacher abruptly left the classroom smack in the middle of a lesson to face felony charges of possession and transfer of child porn. Like what does a parent do with that? What does a school do with that? What does a kid do with that? I mean, there’s no way a school can screen for that if someone has no priors. There’s no hiring committee that can flesh that out of someone during the final round of interviews. Not unless the School Committee approves waterboarding during the hiring process. And I’m guessing that’s highly unlikely.

So although that leaves us somewhat susceptible to frauds, it doesn’t leave us powerless.

Because in a world where school shootings and bombings and terrorism and teacher scandals are more mainstream than ever before, we could all very easily be paralyzed by the simple threat of these things every day. But we can’t be. And I guess that’s really my point here.

I’ve heard a lot of chatter this week about the high school teacher—my daughter’s teacher—who was clearly not who he represented himself to be. I’ve heard it from my daughter, from her friends and from other parents, and the one thing that resonated above anything else was that this guy who everyone trusted and took at face value may be one of the bad guys.

We were duped. We all were. And it was unavoidable. And that hurts.

But, sadly, there’s no real way around being duped in a situation like this. Until such time as we can effectively read peoples’ minds—at which point I’m completely screwed—we have no choice but to take people at their word. We have to assume that people are who they say they are.

And I know that that can be a little frightening, especially in light of all the scary things out there like terrorists and bombers and pedophiles and other SVU types.

So that leaves us with one clear choice of what to do. We have to remember that events like this that hit so close to home can have hidden benefits. They heighten our awareness. They unify people. They strengthen our resolve and move us to look out for each other and take better care of one another.

Because we can’t live in fear of the scary things. The bottom line is, we need to have what my husband Dave calls, “a healthy fear of the really scary stuff,” like the one he says our girls get when they watch too much SVU. And my brilliant husband is absolutely right. We need to accept the idea of what might be out there and then compartmentalize it in a tiny, little drawer in our brain that locks with one of those cheap lockbox keys. And then we have to move on, armed with the knowledge that we’re not gonna let anyone come into our house and push us around.

We have to remind ourselves and each other that the Good Guys far outweigh the Bad Guys in the world. And that all of us who are one of the Good Guys are all playing for the same team and we need to have each other’s backs.

Because let’s face it, most people can’t function well when they’re excessively paranoid. And that’s because paranoia is a wasted emotion. It messes with your head and leaves you looking pathetic and accomplishing nothing.

So here’s the thing, we all just need to use what happened at the high school as a reminder that we still always need to assume the best while being secretly prepared for the worst. And if that means all of us needs to watch more SVU reruns, then so be it. Because when the going gets tough…the tough get going! Now who’s with me?!

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