Jason Nark is a staff writer

Bad news might send a text these days or still ask you if you're sitting down before it piles into your ears faster than you can hear.

When my dad called me one afternoon last month, he sounded worried and the words he spoke - boiling water, really bad burn - were drowned out by the screaming I heard in the background. Thirty minutes later, I was driving to a hospital, telling my 9-year-old son to squeeze my right hand hard when it was too much while trying to explain it all to his mother.

He'd suffered second-degree burns and when the pain radiated across his raw, red stomach, his body shook and his fingernails dug into the back of my hand. I've never told him to be "tough," but he always was. He barely cried when a dog nearly bit off his finger a few years ago or when he crashed his dirt bike and scraped most of the skin off his knees this spring. My dad said he had no fear.

When the tears rolled down his freckled cheeks in my car and the cries slipped past his clenched teeth, I felt helpless.

"Why does bad stuff always happen to me?" he asked.

This was a few days after the Orlando nightclub shooting that killed 49 people, after The Voice singer Christina Grimmie was shot and killed by an obsessed fan there, and an alligator lunged out of the water in Disney World and dragged a little boy down into a lake.

It was also a few days before I was supposed to take my kids to Orlando on vacation. People gave me a pained expression when I said I was going.

America's latest tragedy, like a carnival wheel, had stopped on the so-called happiest place on Earth that week, a trilogy of horror that sent the most painful news rippling out from phone to phone, from police to the people left behind, parents to sisters and loved ones and friends and on and on.

I had pointless arguments about guns with "friends" on Facebook that whole week, but on a more personal level, I couldn't stop thinking about the collective pain of all those parents. The parents of the Pulse nightclub massacre live in a country where people hated their children because of how they loved. They saw what hate can do with the help of an assault rifle. Christina Grimmie's parents probably felt a nervous joy knowing she was living a dream out in the world. Did they ever stop worrying? Could they imagine a bullet stopping her song?

The dad who fought the alligator that killed his 2-year-old son at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort hotel haunted me. I stood on the same shores years ago with my kids, on vacation, and never thought about an alligator, just as that father surely didn't. I used my credit cards to escape all my worries, to buy a little magic and forget about my mortgage.

My kids don't have it bad, despite the mishaps. They were born a rung up the ladder, because my ex and I were born there as well. They wear nice clothes and have phones and never go hungry in their middle-class, suburban world. They are privileged in a way they don't yet understand.

They are going through a divorce, though, and that's the worst news they've gotten so far. I've told myself that millions of kids navigate the breakup just fine but worry my three will be the exceptions. That's probably why I booked another vacation I couldn't afford to a place that sold happiness.

Their mother came to say goodbye to them before we left and asked me to "keep them safe" and I said I'd try. That's all any of us can do. We hugged, briefly, and looking back, I think it was an important part of the vacation for my kids.

We laughed a lot in Orlando and got sweaty and my teenage son got sunburned because I told him to wear sunblock. We ate too much junk, argued a little, and got nauseated on most of the rides. I hugged my daughter a lot and got on her nerves. I remembered what it felt like to be a kid sometimes.

We heard about memorials for the Pulse shootings on the radio and it still dominated local news when we lay in bed at night, exhausted. There were "Orlando United" shirts for sale in our hotel and in the airport. We didn't talk about it all that much and we didn't see an alligator.

Maybe I was trying to wall them inside some magical kingdom just a little longer, even though I know it doesn't exist. I know that if I remain silent about the world outside of our vacation, my kids will hear plenty of opinions from the people I argue with on Facebook. Then I'll be arguing with them someday, wondering what went wrong.

My youngest, his belly wrapped up like a mummy for days after his burn, just wanted to swim there and I worried about chlorine, the sun, or whatever weird mutation the chlorine couldn't kill. He put on his protective surfing shirt, slathered himself in sunscreen, and paced by the pool's edge while I thought it over and texted his mother back home.

We shared a few messages about how unafraid of life our little guy was and watching him splash around for hours made me wish that feeling could ripple out beyond a pool in Orlando.

215-854-5916@jasonnark

narkj@phillynews.com