Twenty-some years ago, when I already had kids and a friend was thinking about having one, she admitted to me that she really doesn't like children much, but I assured her she would like — and love — her own.
So she and her husband decided to give it a try, with a bunch of caveats.
Unlike myself, who believes perfection is an illusion, her children would be perfect, she said. She and their father would raise them in such a way that all would be right in their young lives, hence they would become extraordinary adults. She would be a stay-at-home mom and active in their schools, and the family would have dinner together every night. I greatly admired her romanticism.
Among the premises she and her husband missed was the element of free will which defines us as humans. Her son, now 26, is living at home after educational drifts in school and three unsuccessful tries at various colleges. Her 20-year-old daughter also was not a scholar and works at a big-box retail store, which is an honorable job, but not what her parents wanted for her future.
The parents' reality, and the reality all humans face, is that not everything can go right. Sometimes they go horribly wrong.
Two weeks ago, I watched an interview on CNN with Zubeidat Tsarnaev, the mother of the alleged Boston Marathon bombers, and saw in her face how sometimes things go horribly wrong. Then, as she spoke to a CNN reporter in her town of Makhachkala, Dagestan, she was in the first stage of her grief — denial — and maybe she still is. I believe Tsarnaev did what she thought was right in raising her children. Most mothers do. I believe that whatever can be said about her, Tsarnaev is a mother first, and that two weeks ago she seemed unable to absorb, to believe, to accept that her boys Dzhokhar, 19, and Tamerlan, 26, could have set bombs that killed three people and maimed many others and shot and killed a campus police officer in cold blood. And she could not believe that Tamerlan was dead.
I was the last relative to see my brother Jef alive. At age 38, he had been diagnosed with leukemia and, stalwart that he was, his goal was to reach 40. Resolute and comatose at the end, he nearly reached 41.
Family members were with him 24 hours a day, and we and he knew his passing was imminent. Knowing that, however, did not stop our telling ourselves that he can't be dead after he drew his last breath. But psychotherapist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross defined what was happening to us in her inspired book "On Death and Dying." She explained the steps that come with death, denial being the first. To follow were anger, bargaining, depression and, finally, acceptance.
Maybe the brain shuts down temporarily, I don't know. But with CNN and other news sources not giving Tsarnaev a chance to breathe, she still was denying that her sons could be capable of murder. How could children from her womb become callous monsters? How can any of us, coming into the world as innocents, evolve into people who can kill other people?
"I'm like dead person,'' Tsarnaev said after claiming that the bombing was staged and that the very visible blood was paint. She said she had not watched the video that was a constant on international television of the explosions at the end of the marathon run and the ensuing atrocity that took lives and limbs. She said she felt sorry for all of the victims.
If I were in her place, would I believe my child capable of what her sons are accused of? No. Even if I watched the video, I would probably deny what my own eyes would see.