I stood there, not wanting to hear her words, trying to control my expression. Sorry, my son's teacher told me, but she had all the parents she needed for the upcoming trip. She politely hid her impatience; yes, she had all the backups, too.

I half-jokingly offered to be a backup for a backup. She didn't laugh. It was over; I wasn't going to the Museum of Jewish Heritage with my son's fifth grade class — the "Holocaust Trip," as it had come to be called. Actually, I'd already known the bitter truth. Just the other day, my son had broken the news. "You lost, Ma, you didn't get picked," he mentioned casually as he began his homework. The choosing method? They had picked names out of a bowl.

"Fair's fair," I conceded, trying to feign good sportsmanship, not really succeeding. I was devastated. It didn't feel fair.

My friends didn't understand why I was so disappointed. "What's the big deal? You'll go another time," was the common response.

I knew that. So what was the big deal? Several generations of children, mine included, had been taught the Holocaust as an issue parenthetical to World War II. Now my son and his classmates were actually studying it! And I wanted to be with him at the museum to witness children, Jew and non-Jew, sharing this important experience together, one that might forever change them.

There was, I admit, another reason I needed to be there. I felt my presence would somehow protect my son and his classmates from the horrible imagery and truths they'd encounter. But I wasn't going. How could that be?

In my lingering refusal to accept reality, I even checked my answering machine during my walk on the morning they were leaving. There was no urgent message telling me that neither first picks nor backups could make it; could I please hurry over? I felt this was all some big mistake; I was meant to go. Wasn't I? Yet I had no choice now but to question that premise.

What if, I asked myself, instead of being a strong, comforting presence for my son, I cried? I tried to recall if I had wept during my visit to Anne Frank's house so many years ago with my husband. Probably not, I decided, but couldn't swear to it. It was too many years ago to be certain. But I was more hardened now, wasn't I? Or would the accumulation of my own years — and being a mother — make me even more vulnerable? The last thing I'd want to do would be to cry in front of my son's class. (It was certainly the last thing he would want.) Could that be the reason, then, that I might not have been "meant" to go?

And so in the parallel universe in my mind, I was there with them, looking at pictures on the wall, talking about acceptance and tolerance of all people, and why the world would change with their generation. In actuality, I anxiously awaited the end of the day, for my son's class to return home. With nothing else to do, I worried: Would he be a changed boy? I imagined him looking older, somewhat like Moses after his Mount Sinai visit. I pictured him a little worse for the wear and tear, a somber expression on his young face.

My mouth dropped open when he finally walked through the door — laughing with his friends, his silliness intact, acting as he always did. I was a little puzzled. I wanted to ask, "Excuse me, did you go on a bowling trip instead? I wasn't aware of the change in plans." Instead, I greeted him: "How was it? Was it okay?" I held my breath slightly.

"I spoke to a real-life Holocaust survivor!" he announced proudly, with the same enthusiasm as if he'd met a basketball star. But no, it was a woman the class had met. She had recounted for them her brave escape from certain death in the gas chambers. She had run, and for some unknown reason, didn't get shot by the Nazis. "I had nothing to lose," my son quoted her as saying. As he told me this, I pictured her, twelve years old, eyes widened, looking left, looking right, then bolting, running — expecting at any moment to feel the deadly bullets in her back. I shuddered, feeling the impact of her story.

I focused back on my son. He'd been affected by the story too, but there was no sadness on his face. I was careful to keep any off my own. "Was it a good trip? are you glad you went?"

He was. I was glad for him . . . and strangely, the feeling that I should've been there was being replaced by a sense of relief. Maybe I hadn't needed to go as much as I'd thought.

Every Jewish mother dreads the inevitable day her children learn about the Holocaust. We discuss with other mothers how much our children know, and how they deal with it. We can't control the fact that they will learn about it, any more than we can control the fact that the Holocaust is an unfortunate part of our history.

On that morning, someone else had undertaken the responsibility of teaching the unthinkable to my son. It had been someone else's job to answer the unanswerable, to shoulder that burden. I was let off the hook, in a sense, and began to consider that maybe I was actually spared this trip. For surely, if I had been meant to go, I'd have been there.

I started to trust that feeling now, as I trusted that the Jewish and not Jewish children were positively affected by the experience, whether I was there or not.