There was a moment last week when I truly feared someone might have to peel me off the walls and push me through the opening of the hallway where Husband No. 1 and I waited our turn to pin a D.C. Metropolitan Police Department badge on No. 1 son's dress blue uniform. My eyes were welling, my breathing was rushing toward hyperventilation and panic was racing through my body.
This would not have been a surprise to No. 1 son, who earlier had half-jokingly noted he'd considered the possibility that I might grab his badge and go running off the stage in front of his 19 fellow rookie officers, their families, the Police Chief and the Mayor.
The thought did cross my mind. But then he advised me he'd actually been formally commissioned as an officer the day before this Police Academy graduation and issued the gun that is his until he retires or it's taken away. It was far too late to stop him from becoming a police officer. In fact, it was too late nine months earlier when he left NH to begin this adventure. And when I think about it now, it probably was already too late all those years ago when everything he touched became a weapon to use as a cowboy, a soldier or a superhero.
Nonetheless, I could see our younger son closely watching from the graduation audience, camera in hand and a grin on his face that signaled he was ready to capture the moment if I decided to bolt when the announcer called my policeman son, my husband and I forward for the badge-pinning part of the ceremony. It was an excruciatingly long walk across that stage.
But I was walking toward a young man who looked so sure, so proud and yes, so ready for his new life. It's difficult to tell from this photograph of him handing me his badge whether I'm smiling or gritting my teeth. I suspect it was a combination of both. I do know, though, that I was incredibly relieved because I'd just learned his district assignment and it wasn't the very toughest in the city (though I've since discovered it averages about 20 murders and 6,000 other major crimes annually, and is home to members of one of the nation's most dangerous gangs).
Then it was time to go through the receiving line of Police Department dignitaries. "We'll keep him safe," the Chief, an amazing and imposing woman named Cathy Lanier, told me. (To read her fascinating story, click here.) I suspect she makes that promise to all the mothers whose smiling faces cannot hide the deep fear in their hearts. Nonetheless, it was an assurance from one mother to another, which gave me comfort.
Intellectually, I know my son's career choice should not feel quite so unnerving. As a journalist, I spent years covering crime. I write about it as a mystery author. I've been on police ride-a-longs and interacted with police officers on a not-infrequent professional basis over the years. For many years, my great-uncle was in charge of the Police Department where I now live. But when I first held my son's bulletproof vest, I thought I might pass out from the realization of what it signified. Lifting his duty belt that holds his gun, flashlight, handcuffs, chemical spray, etc., nearly gave me a lump in my stomach, literally and figuratively. This is not a job for the weak or faint of heart (or their mothers).
It also is a job with its own foreign vocabulary and alphabet soup of acronyms, most of which his parents probably will never fully understand. When he talked about showing up the next day in 3-D, it took a while to realize he was referring to his assignment to DC's Police District 3 and not a movie requiring special glasses to view. His first arrest, which came his first day on the streets, was a POCA, he informed us -- involving a prohibited open container of alcohol. He advised us the demonstrations on the national mall are handled by SOD (Special Operations Division), not beat cops, and so forth. When he told us he took a report of a woman beaten in broad daylight when she wouldn't give up her diamond ring to a couple of bandits, I asked what he knew about that gang.
"Bandits are not a gang," he patiently informed me. "That's what we call the bad guys." Oh.
Even if I do learn all the terms, I'm not sure I'll ever become used to the metal lump under his shirt when I hug him. Or the idea that he's made a commitment to risk his life every day for others. But this is not about me. It's about my child finding his passion. I just pray it will add welcome dimensions far beyond the challenging realities of this new life in 3-D.