Monday I was a bloody wreck. I spent the entire day in anguish, on the verge of tears at work, checking in too frequently with my sitter (is she home? does she know?), trying to figure out what the evening would be like. Whether I would need to put out any emotional fires that were smouldering.
A normal day for my girls.
I realized at that point, I simply couldn’t handle the anxiety. I couldn’t spend every single day for the next week or month or year, wondering did they…? what did they…? are they feeling….?
I couldn’t send them to school with the “No I don’t know, and please don’t tell me” button of my fantasies.
It was time to talk to my oldest about Newtowne.
“You’re a big girl, honey–bigger than Sage. So I there is something I want to talk to just you about right now.”
And then I told her about the very sad thing that happened last week, that she might start to hear about at school. I told her that a lot of kids were hurt in a school in Connecticut. And that this is why a lot of grownups seemed so sad this weekend, and why we didn’t have the TV on.
“What happened to them?” she asked, her eyes widening.
“Well,” I said, pushing past the lump in my throat. “They died, honey. A man shot them with a gun.”
She processed this for a moment.
“Do you have any questions I can answer for you? Anything at all?”
And then, of all things, she asked the most wide-eyed, beautifully, painfully naive, single-word question:
This was all she said.
The same question we have all asked ourselves for a week.
Her tone imparted the most exquisite combination of concern and empathy and sadness; I think I will never forget for the rest of my life the way she intoned each letter as if they came straight from her heart, skipping her lips entirely.
In a strange way, it filled me with hope.
One more fount of empathy in the world. One more center of goodness to defeat the bad.
Bless the Internets, I used every bit of reasonable professional advice I had read, describing how some people are sick in the body and some people are sick in their brains and how safe she is and how her Daddy and I have no more important reason to be on this planet than to make sure she and her sister are safe all the time.
T seem appropriately reassured, asked a few more basic questions, and then got a little silly, as she’s apt to do when she wants to change the subject and make everyone happy.
(She’s my daughter after all.)
Her final question however, amazed me.
“20 kids…out of how many?”
“How many kids go to the school?”
When I told her the school had hundreds of kids in it, I could see her doing the math in her head.
“So most of them were okay,” she said.
I explained that even one child’s death is a tragic thing, but yes, there were hundreds of children who are perfectly fine.
She was extremely happy to hear this.
Do kids ever cease to surprise?
I can’t say that you need to talk to your children about Sandy Hook or not. I can’t say for sure that my outcome will be everyone’s outcome. Most of our friends still haven’t told their kids. Some friends didn’t get the chance to tell their children first, and regret it. Some parents told their children first and regret it anyway. I still hope that Sage doesn’t know for a good long time.
Right-wrong answers. Wrong-right answers. All we can do is our best.
When we called Sage back in the room, the three of us cuddled in the semi-darkness, lit only by the BIG tree we had just decorated, the one the girls had been been asking for for years. We stared at it and we commended each other on our ornament-hanging skills and wished Daddy had been home from work to help. We decided it wouldn’t be finished until he was home to put the star on top.
That night, I rubbed their backs before bed just a little longer than usual.
That night there were no nightmares, no midnight creeping into my bed.
Of course I still weep for those children. I continue to feel grief-stricken with each new revelation–the teacher who died cradling her favorite student in her arms. The children buried with notes and drawings from family. Noah Pozner’s taco store dreams. The meanings of all those beautiful names which each have that eerie familiarity for anyone with a child born around 2006. We all know a Dylan. An Olivia. A James. A Madeline. A Jack.
The TV, for the most part, remains off. But as a family, we are moving on. We are no longer living with the fear of “what if they hear?” We are moving from grief to healing, and eventually to action.
We will honor those who have passed. But we must also live for the living.
And damn, if that tree wasn’t one of the best, easiest decisions we had to make all week.