You can say you understand what it's like to be a parent. You can even think you do. After all, you love your dog JUST LIKE he's your child.
No. The answer is no. NONONO you fucking morons, you don't. I had a dog more beloved to me than anything. I told everyone he was "my little baby" and was indignant to find out people scoffed at that. "It's true!" I said, "there's nothing I wouldn't do for him!" After I had a real child, I wanted to time-travel back to my twenties and smack the shit out of my younger self for being a fucktard - I wouldn't have understood what it meant, since "fucktarded" has only been around since it sprung from vampire Pam's vitriolic mouth last year, but I would have understood that older me meant business, and was a horrific bitch who slapped the rhinestone barettes out of my hair, made fun of my kilt... and then told me that my eyebrow ring really was pretty fucking awesome - back before you could get them at the mall - before disappearing.
You can't fathom it. You may as well describe childbirth pain to a man who'll go "Oh, yeah, it's like passing a stone, I've heard." Don't even talk to him - turn to a mother, nod at your shared experience and agree, based on eye contact only, that men will never understand. Just we do. And that's ok. We have each other.
Now, imagine describing sex to your virgin self:
"It feels really good."
"Well, sort of, but better."
Virgin-self walks off looking forward to something that feels like really good masturbation. Yeah - you can't get it because you have no frame of reference at that level of experience.
Now go back to your dog. Remember when he was a puppy. Remember that happy, goofy sensation you got playing with him. It feels a lot like love. Now remember how goddamned cute he was when he did something wrong and looked at you like THAT. You could feel your heartstrings pull having to punish him with that adorable wittle face. Now take those emotions, plus the love you feel for the person you want a family with and multiply them by 10 million. Wrap that in your combined DNA put it in your belly. Have your body make its organs, blood, tissue, limbs, lips, eyes, hair color and wait 9 (seriously more like 10, let's be honest) months to see what he/she looks like. Then imagine what it's like to have all those new organs you made - in your own body - suddenly go live *over there.* Wait a minute. What the shit? That's MY stuff! Everywhere that kid goes, your heart gets pulled along behind him like it's stapled to him.
In our basest form, we're animals with instincts millions of years in the making - instincts that make us do nigh impossible things to protect those little things. Those little things whose own biology taps and exploits every emotion we have to ensure their safety. I've felt what's left of my primordial hackles flex and raise invisible fur down my neck and back, my teeth part and my lips pull back, and felt myself subconsciously puff my chest and rise to full height when I've seen strangers within 10 feet of my kids - readying myself to what? Attack them? Screech like a chimp? Throw feces? I dunno - even though here and now I KNOW beyond a shadow of a doubt that they're safe over there in the sandbox and that's just another kid's dad coming to lift his kid out, dust her off and put her back in her carriage.
They tell us to put our kids in their cribs and let them "cry it out" so they'll learn to sleep without us. From experience, I know what happens. Your heart pounds, your hands sweat and every molecule of your being propels itself in your child's direction, because this is wrong. It feels wrong because it IS wrong. Our chimp selves wouldn't allow this. You shouldn't be this far away. Your baby is in danger without you. Call it what you will, but that's evolution fighting our societal urges to separate from our children and give them some independence. We're the only mammal that puts our young someplace else to sleep - because we goad new mothers into thinking that wanting their babies to sleep with them will somehow cause distress later.
Tell me again how your dog is just like your child?
As a parent, this now extends to other kids. You see other children crossing the street and linger to make sure they make it safely. You catch a wayward toddler running from his mom in the supermarket, you hold open doors for people carrying babies. It's what we do, because it's how we're intended to become once we become parents.
Entrusting our kids to someone else is the hugest leap of faith ever, but it has to be done. You can't watch them every second. There's work, there's school, there are playdates and after school activities. During these times, your mind is ticking down an anxious internal clock to the time we can hold our babies again - to the time we can bring all those organs back to our own bodies so they feel close enough again.
That's why this horrible thing that has happened will touch parents everywhere. It will touch others, too, who recognize it as a horrific tragedy, but not the way it will touch parents. The parents of the victims have quite literally had their insides stripped away. All those things that originated in their own bodies and went into making those little kids have been wrenched away from them. You can't live without your organs, which is why parents are never the same after the death of a child. A mother or father may weaken and adapt and limp along on what they have left over, but they can't use their hearts in the same way when their second heart is gone.
I'm angered by the fruitlessness of my tears and overwhelmed by the depth of my sorrow for these strangers. My instinct of protection for my own kids has flipped me into crinos form, rabidly seeking out my children in the schoolyard, senses on red alert; yearning for their closeness; peering over them in tears as they sleep, and hugging them much harder and longer than they want me to.
No. These parents will never forgive themselves. They did nothing wrong and everything right sending their children to school, but they'll forever rewind an unrewindable clock in their brains, wishing they HAD thought his cough was too bad for school and kept him home; wishing they'd been there and somehow stopped it all! - they couldn't have; wishing that something, anything had happened differently that day to undo the unthinkable. They'll fight to stay asleep in dreams their children are in - where they can smell them and feel them and touch them again - and imagine waking to a world where all the calendars are missing the date December 14, 2012. Their lives as they know them are over, and I'll forever mourn for them, along with every other parent in the world.
To the childless: be grateful. Be grateful for not having the burden of knowledge we do. Because to us you're a virgin dreaming about what sex is like, a man imagining what childbirth is like, a dog owner who treats their pet JUST LIKE a baby. Feel a little indignant? Like you've doubtless heard before, "You'll understand when you're a parent."