As everyone is so painfully aware, this past Friday, December 14, 2012, was a tragic day. The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting is an event that touches us, and causes us grief, no matter where we live. As a mother, especially, I find that news like this deeply impacts me. Today, I’m trying to make sense of some of my own feelings by sharing scenes from that day in my life.
8:50am – I walk into the library at my daughter’s elementary school, where I’m volunteering for the Secret Shopper day. Classes take turns visiting the library, which is filled with items they can buy for their friends and family for Christmas. It’s a fun day, and it raises money for the school’s Parent Advisory Council. The tables are covered with all sorts of things – watches, scarves, body wash, stuffed animals, knick knacks, fancy erasers and colourful pencils – all divided by category. One table has a sign that says Dad and Grandpa. Another says Games. Another says Pets. All the signs are neatly printed, all the items are neatly laid out, and all the parent volunteers are chatting with each other, before the children arrive.
9:50am – A Babysitter’s Club book catches my eye. It’s sitting on top of a shelf, balanced on the corner against another, larger book. Its cover is pink, and it’s called Kristy’s Great Idea. Immediately, I am 11 years old again, devouring these books. I read so many of them. I seem to remember something about Kristy, but I can’t remember the other club members, no matter how hard I try. I think it’s funny what you do remember, and what you don’t.
10:20am – A 10-year-old boy asks me for help finding a gift for his mom. I agree, and ask him what his mother likes. His face goes blank, then confusion passes over it, before he gives up and shrugs. “I don’t know,” he says. And it occurs to me that, like so many children, he has never considered that his mother may have actual desires of her own. (In the end we chose a lovely photo album together.)
10:35am – I pull out my phone and log in to Twitter to share something amusing about the confused 10-year-old boy. My stream is filled with expressions of grief, and the hashtag #Newton (I now realize this was a typo). I click on the hashtag to learn more, and finally find a link to an article on ABC News. My heart drops out of my chest, and I swallow deeply. Then I look up to see the library with its colourful tables filled with prospective gifts. Its cheeriness stands in stark contrast to the way I feel. I consider whether I should tell the other parents. In the end, I choke back tears and decide not to. They’ll know soon enough, and there’s nothing they can do, anyway.
11:15am – Another parent volunteer snaps at me, and I want to yell at her. Once again, I choke it back.
1:05pm – I sit on the couch, a large plate balanced on my knee. The plate contains nachos, made with leftover beef from taco night. A small bowl on its rim holds salsa. As I eat, I watch The Daily Show from the night before. It is funny, and blissfully free of reports of dead children.
2:55pm – My daughter walks out of the school, almost immediately after the bell rings. I see her smiling face, framed by the faux fur trim on her hood. I see her hands,clutching her Secret Shopper purchases. The sight of her makes me feel relieved.
4:55pm – It’s dark out, and my daughter and I are driving to pick up my son from daycare when the news comes on. “Why did that man shoot children?” she asks me. I don’t really know what to say – I’m not sure how to explain mental illness to my daughter without using stigmatizing language. While I ponder, she says, “He must have been very bad. He will be going to jail for sure.” I say that he won’t be going to jail, because he shot himself. She responds that it must have been an accident, and I say it wasn’t. “Why would anyone shoot themselves?” she asks. I stutter through an answer, fearing I’m doing a bad job, unsure what to say to a seven-year-old. Eventually she comes up with her own answer. “He must have been very sad because he killed children.”
6:20pm – My husband texts me, letting me know that he’s leaving work late. I wish he were at home already. I wish we were all together. I wish all families were together.
10:35pm – Exhausted, I head up to bed when I can no longer keep my eyes awake while watching TV. This is the earliest I have gone to bed in living memory. As I drift off to sleep, I send out a silent prayer. For the parents who lost children. For the families and friends in mourning. For everyone who, hearing the story, shed tears of grief and hugged their own children just a little bit tighter, for a little bit longer. I hope for a better day when morning comes.