When my kids were little, I defined myself as their teacher, comforter, healer, cook, cleaner, playmate, and protector. During this last week, I have been hit in the face by the fact that, although I will always be those things to my kids, no matter how old they are, except their protector.

A week ago today, a little after midnight, I received a phone call from one of my son's friends. He and my son, along with several of their friends were at a party at the home of a classmate. The party was being held just a few miles from our house and I felt safe letting him go to the get-together. His friend's first words to me were, 'Leslie, I don't want to upset you, but there were gunshots at the party and we can't find Hayden.' At that moment, everything went black, it was as if I was hearing and viewing everything through a small pinhole. I couldn't speak and I started to shake. I then hung up the phone and tried to call my son.

After a couple of rings, he answered the phone and told me he was ok and in his car. A feeling of panic rushed through my body. I wanted to go to him, to protect him from what was happening. While we were talking, he arrived safely at a nearby friend's house. I asked what he saw and if anyone was hurt. He told me he saw two bodies on the ground, in the yard. He had to walk by them to get to his car. He said he thought they were dead. My son was at the party, in the early morning hours of Saturday, June 1st, in Whitesville, KY, where two teens were shot and killed.

I have struggled all week with many emotions. First and foremost grief I have over the death of those two boys. Also, the sadness and empathy I feel for their mothers and other loved ones who lost so much that night. And, the mixed emotions of feeling blessed that my son was spared that night and the devastating reality that I have no control over protecting him from the world around him.

I guess, in a sense, I never really did. When he was little, I thought I did because I strapped him in a car seat, holding his hand as he walked downstairs, cut his food up into small pieces, put a helmet on him when he rode his bike, caught him as he jumped into the pool, held him when he was scared, all of the things I did that made me feel in control.

But, the reality is that each of us has our own path. My job, in his life, is to be a guide and adviser. There is no way I could have protected him that night, just like there is no way that the mothers of the two boys that were killed could have protected them. As hard as it is to realize that his life and death are out of my hands, it is a lesson in faith and love that is the hardest to come to grips with. The moment we give birth to our babies, our instincts kick in to take care of them and protect them. Realizing that we are only a side-by-side companion on their journey, not the leader, is truly the most difficult part of being a parent.

We have to let our children grow up, go out on their own, and take risks. It's all a part of living life to the fullest. We wanted that when we were young and they want it too. Moving forward from this tragic event, I'm going to try harder to adhere to the advice I have given others.

It's an analogy I have offered to bring peace to the hearts and minds of parents who are struggling with control of the inevitable hard lessons of life and the ugliness of the world around our kids. It goes like this...

Think of you and your child holding hands on the outer edge of a dark forest. Your child looks at you, you smile, and let go of their hand. The two of you share a warm, comforting embrace. They then turn and walk into the woods. But, before they enter, they turn back to look at you with an even bigger smile. They then proceed into the woods. Soon, you can't see them. You remember the woods, sometimes its magical and wonderful and sometimes it is scary and dark. As much as you want to, you can't follow them on their path into the woods. They must go alone. You can only be the light that guides them out of the woods if they get lost.  - Leslie Morgan




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