Yesterday I chaperoned my daughter’s second grade at our local Science Center. Let me be honest. I was less than excited about this field trip as I have been on numerous outings with class groups to this particular location too many times to count in the last 10 years. Mind, it isn’t the venue, which is always great, it’s just that I was tired (been suffering from some insomnia), the staff made me throw away my just sipped twice chai tea latte, I’d argued earlier with my oldest son about his lack of time management skills, I couldn’t get good cell phone reception, and my daughter was disappointed in me because she didn’t like the book I picked to read to her class before the field trip. So while I was physically present for this occasion, I was most definitely not present emotionally.
I know that I’m not the only parent to ever make this type of confession. We (as parents) are often a million places at once even when we are standing still. And often times we miss out on moments that we think we will get to make up for later on.
Some of us won’t get that chance. Today things stopped making sense.
Sandy Hook. I left the field trip, turned on my phone, and discovered text messages, voice and emails, facebook and twitter posts, all filled with the news of the horrific events that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. I turned to the parent standing next to me, who could tell by my face that something was terribly wrong. And as I told her, we began to cry and embraced each other, because the shock, the grief, was just too much. She then turned to her son, one of my daughter’s classmates, and pulled him into her arms, holding him as if at any moment he would vanish and her arms would be empty.
Because the death of a child reverberates with all of us. And the violent deaths of twenty leaves us breathless, shaken to our very souls.
I am not an expert on this. And truthfully, I don’t want to be an expert. I don’t ever want to be called or asked to comment on something like this ever again. I cannot begin to fathom the depth of grief that these families are feeling over the senseless loss of their children’s lives or the families of the teachers and staff whose hearts are also filled with pain and sorrow. I cannot imagine how the first responders must be feeling this morning as they relive those first moments on the scene. And I am certain that the parents and families of those children who survived this event are filled with joy because they were able to hold their children last night, and guilt because they have friends who were not.
I know that as parents, as a community, we want explanations, we want to know why did this happen.
But the worst truth of all is that we may never know, that no answer will ever take away or smooth over the ragged edges of grief. Because sometimes things just stop making sense. So I called some good friends who work in social-emotional learning to ask their advice on how I help others make sense of this. Ellen Dodge and Susan Greenwood of Kimochi’s were as much at a loss as I was, but they urged that amid the confusion, the anger, the grief, that we as a nation give space to permit all those feelings before we rush to our own school and demand that our Principals and teachers prove to us that our children’s schools are safe. That we work together as respectful partners, knowing that we are all in this together.
So yes, like so many of my friends, last night I held my children a little tighter and a little longer in an embrace. I said “I love you” over and over until they really heard in in their hearts and not just their ears. I made silent promises to myself that I will do everything in my power as their mother to keep them personally safe, and everything as an advocate to make sure all their friends are safe. My eleven year old son just participated in a statewide youth leadership conference where they went to the Capitol and presented legislation. While hugging me last night said “Mom, next year when I present a bill I’m going to urge delegates to stop selling guns online and also that we provide better support and services to those in our nation who are mentally ill.” Wow. If my middle school son gets it, why don’t the adults who actually serve as legislators get it?
Ultimately the final truth is that I have no words of comfort to those grieving. I have no words of wisdom to those who are seeking solace. I, like so many, wake this morning thinking “is this going to be our new norm?” I pray that it is not. As Nelson Mandela said, “we owe our children, the most vulnerable in our society, a life free of violence and fear.” And we need to start to fulfill that promise today so that this won’t happen again tomorrow.