We wake up late. My human alarm clock has, for the first time in recent memory, slept in his own bed all night.
“Mom,” Isla says from next to my bed. I rub my eyes and focus on her. “It’s 7:00!”
Miles doesn’t want to get up and Jonah refuses to get dressed. We hurry over bowls of cereal and the kids dawdle and I make all of their lunches even though the boys should have made their own.
“Bye, Mom!” they call as they open the front door. They are clad in black snowpants and multicolored hats and scarves. I’m in the kitchen when I hear their farewells and I panic. I haven’t hugged them yet. I don’t always. Today, I need to.
I wrap them up in my arms, the three of them together. I kiss the top of Miles’ head, so close to my own face now – he’ll be taller than me before I know it.
“I love you guys! Have a great day,” I say. I don’t want to let go. I do let go. They go.
They have no idea.
* * *
Last Friday, December 14, the kids were at school or daycare. I’d worked on real work for a while and then, remembering my neglected but personally valuable blog, I sat down to write a post about pull-apart rolls, the ones I make every year around Christmas-time. I’d made them for a holiday brunch at my sister’s and had only a semi-decent photo of the finished product but it was so close to December 25 I figured it was the day to share.
I checked Facebook while Photoshop opened. I scrolled through photos of kids on Santa’s lap and an Instagram snap of a Starbucks cup.
And then, from a friend in Connecticut, an update just before 10am about a shooting at her kids’ school. Panic welled up in me but she also stated that her kids were safe. My fingers raced to type in cnn.com and I scanned the article and calmed a little as I only read that a gunman was dead.
“Just the gunman,” I thought. “That’s not so bad.” A testament to the world we live in, perhaps, that I am relieved and not crazed over the news that one person is dead inside an elementary school.
But as the morning wore on the news got worse and worse. I caught glimpses of my friend and her two children on photos and on national video shared by other friends that they’d found online. We are not close friends, I’m not trying to co-opt her experience or make people feel bad for me by claiming I have intimate ties to this woman halfway across the country. I don’t. But I know her, and just last month I included photos of her daughter meeting my daughter at Disney World two years ago in a memory book, so for me the shooting was made all more real not by being physically near Newtown but because I know a woman who lives there. Her kids go to the school.
When Columbine happened I was in college, and enough time had passed since high school that I didn’t feel a visceral, personal reaction. I didn’t know anyone in Colorado. It was surely as devastating but I can’t remember where I was when I heard the news. When 9/11 happened I was 1700 miles away and didn’t work in an office building and had never been to New York. I remember where I was, though, and I felt dread and vulnerability like nothing I’d felt before. Shock at the number of dead.
But this. These children, in the town with the zip code where my Christmas cards have been delivered. First graders, like my little Grant.
I spent almost the whole day alone. I had no spouse to turn to to be comforted, to try to sort out my feelings. It didn’t feel right to call a friend about what was happening. A secret Santa dinner in the evening had me torn between wanting to sit at home and focus my prayers on the dead and the survivors and wanting to be around other living people and talk about something other than what had been lost in Connecticut and from our hearts.
We did not tell the kids. We don’t have access to TV channels at home so we knew they would not hear about it accidentally at home over the weekend, and I hoped that Saturday and Sunday would dull the news a little for any other student who might learn of it and want to spread information in hushed tones on Monday. The kids walked in the door yesterday and I braced myself for questions that never came.
Now I’m left reeling, with the rest of the country, wondering when it’s okay to stop thinking about those poor, innocent souls. Thinking about their fear as they faced a monster in their school is almost more than I can bear. I’ve had three six-year olds so far. They are small and sweet and pure. As the link that was shared en masse around Facebook and Twitter stated, “I know what six looks like.”
We are left now trying to figure out what happened and why and we may never know. The randomness and brutality of the act frighten me to the point that I have to stop myself from thinking about what happened inside of that school because while I want to honor these kids’ memories, the thoughts about what they experienced make my heart seize.
I can’t stop thinking about my friend, her community, the parents who will never hug their children again. Did they hug them that morning before school? If they didn’t, are they trying to remember the last time they held their child in their arms?
The nation is crying out, “More gun control!” or “Guns aren’t the problem,” depending on which part of the nation is speaking at a given moment. “More access to mental health care!” I hear repeated.
And I sit alone in my office, my children out of my sight and out of my reach, entrusted to teachers and day care providers, and I am fearful that nothing will ever be enough. That we can’t stop evil where it lurks and we can’t catch every deranged criminal and we can’t make every gun and bomb and knife disappear, no matter the amount of gun legislation or mental health care providers or locks and buzzers on doors. My mind starts to think that perhaps some people are just bad people and no amount of laws or access to psychologists or drugs will stop them. I worry we are a society that is going to increasingly create people who are detached from death and consequences because of violence in video games and on TV, and because parents let their children grow up believing they should not have to be accountable for anything.
But I can’t bow to fear. None of us should. I have to believe more light exists in the world than dark.
* * *
I’ve been trying to write an ending paragraph full of joy and blessings and optimistic sayings like, “Look at how good life is despite it all!” but I can’t yet because I still somehow feel that to count my own blessings is to dishonor the families who are grieving. I hugged my children this morning and thought about Sandy Hook. Went to coffee with friends and we talked about Sandy Hook. Read the newspaper and page after page was Sandy Hook and I teared up and the pain was real even if it’s not pain I feel for myself.
We are thinking of you, Newtown. We are thinking of you, all the other parents who’ve lost children to senseless violence on an all-too-often basis, even if not by mass-murderer and not to such international attention. We will move on more quickly than you will, those of us who haven’t lost what you lost, those of us who didn’t see what you saw. But you’ll always be in our hearts. We will never forget. We will pray the world cam change.