The longest day

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The moment I learned that Elvis had died remains perfectly clear in my head.

I was 8 and it was summer in the suburbs, which meant unattended soccer and stickball and other games in the street with my best friend. Some older kids from the neighborhood ran to us, blurting out the most crazy stories: Elvis died! He was found dead on the toilet. He was shaving. He was drunk. He was in the shower. He was found dead with his pants down. He still had poop sticking out of his butt! He died because he was fat so you’d better not get fat. He died because he was old. (Old being 42.)

I didn’t know what to believe. I just knew that something bad had happened and it may or may not have had to do with poop.

My children may have their own day like that today, a day where they hear stories and don’t know what to believe. Only it’s not an old guy (old being 42) from the radio who died.

Then again, they might not hear anything at all.

However if the kids are extra attentive, they are already perceiving change in the school: a few more lollipops in lunchboxes than usual; a few more hugs at drop off; a few less kids showing up for school at all today.

I know we as parents all have different ways of dealing with this, of talking to our kids, of deciding to shelter them from bad news and to varying degrees. But I do know the one, more important thing we all have in common right now, is that it’s Monday. The very day so many of us have been dreading all weekend long.

I don’t know a parent that didn’t spend Sunday, especially as the day waned, in states that ranged from mild anxiety to total panic about what today would bring when our babies were out of our watchful eyes and into the world on their own.

That is not crazy or overprotective or silly, and don’t let anyone tell you it is.

That’s love.

Yesterday, I turned down a morning show appearance, acknowledging I simply didn’t have the skills or expertise to do justice to the segment–or more importantly, the emotional strength to make it through without crying. “Put on a psychologist,” I suggested (like they hadn’t already had a ton of them booked, duh.). “Because all parents can think about right now, is what will happen to our children tomorrow if they find out.”

I knew I needed to focus on helping my own kids today, not prepping for TV. I had more to worry about than not having washed my hair for five days and getting rid of the telltale puffy eyes I’ve sported for the last 72 hours straight.

This morning, Monday came, as it does every week.

I somehow managed to get my kids ready and packed, have the daily “where is your red folder!” conversation, button up their raincoats and walk them to school. I was able to drop Sage off in Kindergarten–and then leave her there–by sheer will, an abundance of hugs, and my inability to look her young teacher in the eye for more than a fleeting second. “Don’t go until I say you can go,” she said, as always. It had new meaning today.

In part I was reassured by a wonderful email from our principal last night which gave me the strength to let go of those little hands for the day:

In simplest terms, we will treat your children like they were our own. We will love them like they were our own. And we will protect them like they were our own. After an event like this, it is our obligation to assure you and your children that they will be safe in our care.

Next I walked Thalia up to her class, which I rarely do. I hugged her twice, waved a smiley goodbye, turned around to leave.  I was sobbing within seconds, just outside her classroom door.

Thank goodness for a kind mom friend in the hall who grabbed me and said, “let’s hold hands and walk together.”

Holding an adult hand has its own restorative qualities sometimes.

I tweeted this morning that I wish I could send my kids to school wearing a button that says, “No I don’t know. Please don’t tell me.” Maybe it’s pure wishful thinking that I can keep them naive even a few days longer. A single day. An hour.

Or maybe it was stupid that now, like so many of you I’m sure, I will be spending the whole day today away from my kids for the first time since Friday, in a total state of anxiety again, with half an eye on my work but really, wondering what our children are hearing, how they’re processing it, how they’re doing.

Whether they need me.

Whether they’ll come home, as I did that summer day in 1977, and ask me about some weird thing they had heard.

Or simply ask for pasta for dinner. Butter sauce. Nothing green.

I just don’t know.

As my mother said to me when I was the new mother of an infant, panicky and anxious in a different way from today: Just remember every decision you make as a parent is right. And every decision you make as a parent is wrong.

So today I made that right-wrong decision that I thought was best at the time. As did we all.

While the clock clicks so very slowly towards 3:00, let’s not argue about parenting choices. Let’s just be here for each other. Because it’s going to be a very, very long day.


60 thoughts on “The longest day”

  1. I walked my boys into school today, too. Today all school buses were cancelled so my little one was virtually the only one in his JK class, along with another classmate. To them, it’s going to be the greatest day ever. To me, it’s going to be hard. I walked down the hallways of that happy place… to me, school is such a happy place of learning, of adventure, of friends, of laughter—and tears, boom. I can’t stop thinking of the horror. I blogged about it, of course, I talked about it with friends, I hugged my kids, I cried into my pillow, I watched Obama address everyone last night, and still… I don’t feel good. I feel exhausted…

  2. Your mom’s words are so wise, and so true. Her words (and yours) will stay with me. Thank you.

    These last few days my own mother’s words have echoed in my head, too. “When you become a parent, suddenly, your own death is no longer the worst thing you can imagine.” And she was right. So right.

  3. Everything is right and everything is wrong. At the same time.

    And I just had discussion with my husband on whether to tell our younger daughter (6); he had already told our older son (9). I did not want her to know, to me 6 is too young to comprehend, and I don’t know what to to tell to make sense . To a 6 year old. Or any age, for that matter.
    But my husband has opinion that is better if she hears it from us. And that is the same man that did not tell me anything the whole Friday (as I was rushing through sheer madness at work and some stupid, stupid shopping for family get together, followed by office xmas gala in night club). He did not utter a word. To me. He cried alone, hiding from kids in the bathroom. And hiding from me. As this is too incomprehendable to share. Too painful. Too f..ed up (excuse my French). Even for me, strong-willed mother of two.

    What DO you say to 6-year old?

    1. It’s really lovely that he didn’t tell you.

      I was thinking that I was totally oblivious myself Friday morning, having stupid debates at the office and forever conference calls. It all seems so silly now.

  4. Thank you for saying it’s not silly to feel worried. I’ve been struggling today with accepting how much I can’t control. And I thought today as I watched my daughter go into her school that if I were limited to only what I see in front of me and what I know firsthand, that I would believe the world is nothing but a safe and lovely place. Sometimes being so instantly connected to everything is wonderful, and sometimes it’s just a curse.

  5. I hope my children do not hear what happened. I want them to still look at school as a safe place. I want them to have their innocence a bit longer. I don’t want to have to explain to them at 6 and 5 the tragedy that struck those families in Newtown.

    I held them a bit longer today and realized that each moment needs to count because in the blink of an eye it could all be gone.

  6. Thank you for this post.
    I struggled with this all weekend and in the end decided not to tell my 2 boys, ages 7 & 9. We live in New Hampshire and I have never been so thankful to wake up to snow on the ground. Mother nature bought me one more day.

  7. This is so spot on. I have never seen the drop off line at school as long as it was this morning. We have, by sheer miracle, managed to shield our first grade twins from this unspeakable tragedy. I don’t know how long we can keep it that way and it makes me weep to think that I might have to (try to) explain what happened.

  8. thank you so much for this post. i too was emotional, fighting back tears as i handed my first grader off to his teacher this am. i wondered if i was crazy–we live a long way from CT. i am sure those who know me would be perplexed as i am one of those let’s-crank-up-the-ani-difranco-and-get-outraged types usually after events like this. but then, i guess there never has been an event quite like *this*. i had a really hard time holding it together. could also barely look his teacher in the eye so that i could keep a smiling face as i ushered him through the classroom door. i couldn’t really even articulate why i was so emotional. there were so many reasons. many of which you articulated here so well. i too withheld and shielded my son, my small fragile 6 yr old, from knowledge of this event. determined not to make my issues his issues since he really doesn’t have the tools to process them. Other parents suggested to tell them so that other kids wouldn’t be the first to break the news and have him be at school without us trying to understand bad guys shooting up a school. But for us it was a fine line between trying to inoculate with anticipatory reassurance (do they store that for specific topics at this age?) vs. a scary serious conversation with mommy and daddy about bad guys at school. we opted to wait. we also made the right-wrong decision.

  9. We didn’t have to make the decision to tell our boys or not because they asked us Friday night. Throughout the course of their day running errands they had heard people talking about kids getting hurt in CT (we just moved from there 3 mo ago) so they asked if their friends were ok. We said it was true but obviously didn’t go into detail – including not telling them it happened at school. They wanted to know if the kids were in heaven now and we said yes. While I’m ok with how we handled it, I will say I’m super stressed today knowing they will be at school with kids who don’t know. We asked them not to talk about it with their friends – only their teachers, us, grandparents or another adult but who knows. I don’t want my kid to be the one to break the news.

  10. My son is only three so he isn’t old enough to go to school yet. I am just glad is isn’t because I don’t think I would have had the strength to drop him off today. I have been giving him lots of extra hugs and kisses and just appreciating him more.

  11. We did tell our 6-year old in very simple terms: a man, who was sick in his mind, killed a lot of kids. We said it was terribly scary and daddy & mommy were very sad but that she and her brother are safe. I cried as we talked to her. She had a few questions and came to her own conclusions about the tragedy: “I bet the kids were very frightened, but they were also very brave”, “I know my teacher is there to keep me safe, so I will listen to her”, etc.

    I was too weepy this weekend to not tell her, I wanted her to know why I was sad. Also, having worked in a K-8 school for several years, I’ve seen kids devastated when learning things on the playground. I wanted it to come from us, and for her to know that she could ask questions. I’m terrified of enough right now and didn’t need to add “what if she finds out and I’m not there to comfort her?” to the list. Perhaps that is selfish, but it was the right-wrong decision for us.

    1. I’m really encouraged by your daughter’s reaction – she sounds so thoughtful and smart. Thank you. There’s a lot of comfort in that.

  12. Incredibly, I was shocked at my own emotion as I dropped my 1st grader off this morning. I took her out of the car (a job typically reserved for the “responsible” 5th graders) and hugged her, kissed her until she said, “Ok, mom, you can stop now,” and the crossing guard led her away. I too was tearful. Then I backtracked and went home to get my preschooler who usually walks to school with her babysitter, so I could take her myself.

    My emotions today caught me completely by surprise. I thought I’d be thinking about little Noah Pozman who I believe is being laid to rest today. And while my thoughts are very much in Newtown, Ct., they are also in the little elementary school and preschool about 10 miles from my work, where I’m hoping no other child infringes on my kid’s innocence with tales of violence and horror.

    1. Thanks Jiil. My thoughts are also with Noah and his family today. And at the same time, with my own children. I think they’re intertwined.

  13. I thought I was ok this morning until the moment it was time to say goodbye to my daughter at her kindergarten classroom door. Then I had to give her an extra hug. Then an extra kiss. I was fighting tears when I walked away, but I don’t think she noticed. I haven’t told her, and I wasn’t planning to. I hope no one else mentions it either, because I want her classroom to feel like the safe, happy place it has been for her all along.

  14. Liz, thanks so much for posting this. It’s good to know I’m not the only one still crying three days later. This is just unknown depths of horribleness.

  15. You know, I expected some kind of message from the school, or to perhaps see more teachers out front today. Something. But it was a normal drop off out front this morning, as if nothing had ever happened. I don’t know why, but I wish there had been some type of acknowledgment.

    Aside from that, it was tough to take them and leave them there …

    1. Oof I’m so sorry. Getting that email from the principal last night was the most reassuring thing. Personally, I’d be upset at any school that didn’t take the initiative.

      1. Nothing different at my daughter’s school, either. The only acknowledgment was a post from the counselors on the school blog Friday afternoon about what to say to your kids (in this case the recommendation was to say nothing) about the tragedy. No email blast, nothing on the school blog, no post on the school system website. No note in the backpack this afternoon either. Heck, they didn’t even publicize the post – it was just there! I’m sorely disappointed.

        As a former teacher, I am certain that all safety procedures are being reviewed and updated with staff and students alike, but it would have been nice for someone to have said that to the parents explicitly. Nobody can promise that tragedy won’t strike (nor should they) but they can and should promise to do all they can to prevent it. I said something to one of my daughter’s teachers this afternoon about the lack of reassurance, but I can’t decide if I want to send an email to the administration about it or not.

        1. I am a teacher who teaches at a school with a focus on Social Emotional intelligence. We decided as a staff to take the children’s lead on this. If a child brought it up, we would speak with them privately to reassure them and make sure they talk to their parents about their worries or feelings. None of us felt like it was an appropriate class discussion because not every child knew about the tragedy. No one in my fifth grade class brought it up, so I did not either. We spent the afternoon talking about mitzvahs instead and how important it is to do good deeds and help others. I would commend your school for not putting it out there if the kids were not doing so first. I think the reassurance the kids felt was the rituals and routines of their classrooms and the care of their teachers.

          1. They assured us they will handle it class by class, taking the students’ lead. I though that was wise.

            Love what your school did – it sounds like a great place.

  16. My husband does drop off. I came into work late and was still home when he got back. I wanted to ask how everything went but knew if anything were amiss he’d have mentioned it. I don’t even know what I was expecting. What did amiss even mean to me this morning? What did it look or sound like? I don’t know. I don’t know. I just know that this is going to be a long day and I’d really truly love another adult’s hand to hold until it ends.

    We received a message last night that my daughter’s middle school was changing entry and exit doors and that they were plugging the metal detector back in.

  17. We decided to tell our kids on Friday – ages 12, 9 and 7. I’m glad we did – my 9 year old’s 4th grade teacher had told them during school and my 12-year old had heard already from other kids. It would have been inevitable for them to tell their younger brother at some point, and we got to control the information flow to a certain extent. Many chose not to tell their kids, and I understand why, but I just know how much my older kids chatter and wanted to have my say. In my 9 year old’s Sunday School class yesterday a student asked to pray for those hurt in CT, and apparently there were a number of children who looked confused because they didn’t know.

    1. I completely understand. Your kids are older and it makes perfect sense. Especially in a Sunday school situation – which is like your version of what I’m feeling today as I send them out into other people’s hands.

  18. Thank you for this. I literally don’t know what to do. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read the articles. I’ve thought and cried and hugged and thought and hugged and cried more. Today, my husband dropped our son off at school as I was still at Grandma’s house winding down early Christmas. I missed that one drop of and had these crazy what-ifs. The Kindergarten pod is the first set of classrooms inside the front door. What if…. I cannot bear to think or cry anymore, at least for this moment as tears roll again. I will just love and pray and know we’re all in this together.

    1. I’m so sorry Abbey, I understand. There’s a difference between reading about parenting decisions and actually making those decisions, and indeed it can be paralyzing. The internet hugs you back.

  19. I have a growing knot in my stomach thinking about whether Amelia will hear anything at school today. We also made a choice to say nothing to her. Since our dog died when she was 4, she’s had an unusually high level of anxiety over death. To the point that she cries when lightning strikes too close to home during storms because “it could hit me and I could die.” I was too afraid of this putting her over the edge with fear and anxiety.

    I was spared the drop off today since it’s not one of the days I work from home, but when we got a note from the school today talking about their added safety measures put in place going forward (and I have to say the ones they had already were pretty strict), my heart broke all over again. They are essentially in lock down now and the teachers have to lock themselves into their classrooms during the day. I can’t see how Amelia won’t notice something is up and I’m sitting on pins and needles to hear about the explanation they are given as to why this is necessary.

  20. Thank you for this lovely and honest post. My baby is too young to understand or have a conversation with. But I’ve felt alone all weekend because my husband wouldn’t really talk about it (until last night right before bed). I felt like I was crying alone all weekend and trying to hide it from him. Thank you for saying it’s okay to be worried and upset. I know everyone is, but I have felt silly for crying so much all weekend.

  21. I was never so happy to have to rush to be on time to get the boys for an orthodontist appointment today.
    They both know what happened. They saw me cry. They witnessed me unable to turn off the news. And then like little men, tried to act tough and fix it….I wanted to say ‘Just stay home and be f-ing safe with mom”

  22. i’m right there with you… holding my breath… fighting my tears… hoping my own little first-grader doesn’t hear a word until she’s long since passed first grade.

  23. I chose not to tell my five year-old son what happened and then spent the entire day holding my breathe hoping he hadn’t heard something he could not process from someone else.

  24. I didn’t sleep last night, dreading today. All weekend I was okay, because I kept myself so busy. But today was different. Mine do know. Or my girls know. My son, at just four has no clue and I hope to keep it that way. My girls school had a lock down drill this morning. Sigh. I hate that such things exist.

    This work day has been 92 hours long and it’s only 2pm. I am ready for it to be 5pm. To pick them up, squish them until they squeak and take them to IHOP, because my oldest told me that today is national maple syrup day. Normally I’d say, so what? We aren’t Canadian. But today? Today, we’ll go celebrate a made up day. Maple syrup for all!

  25. Yes, buttons for my kids. Heck, I wish I could have a button. Now here I sit at the kitchen table while my son does his homework. No questions about anything other than math, and I’m extremely grateful (as I discreetly blow my nose and wipe away some tears).

    Such a kind mom friend to offer to hold hands. Beautiful gesture and image in my mind. “Let’s just be here for each other.” Amen.

    1. Oh, and I just saw your tweet about schools responding (or not). My son’s principal sent out a message Friday afternoon — before the school day was even over. I was very touched by her response.

  26. Our schools’ principals (high school & elementary) sent out a recorded call Friday evening reassuring parents of their own safety measures and the plan to carefully review all of them. They also stated that grief counselors would be at school sites this week for anyone. A call from the district superintendent soon followed with the same reassurances. My son’s teachers sent an email outlining plan for today. His main teacher also asked that parents please reply with what, if any discussion had taken place in our homes so that she might be sensitive to the children’s knowledge and needs. I appreciated that. I outlined to her the questions son had when I picked him up Friday as he could see I had been crying and all the parents rushing to hug and kiss their kids a little too long (“weird, Mom!”) and my response to his questions. He has a basic understanding and following his lead, it was clear that was all he wanted/needed. He seemed more concern in comforting us and reassuring us that he was safe at school. He is in 4th grade. An hour after the start of school, his teacher emailed me back asking if I could forward the contact info I had on my FB page to write to @vdog’s family. She said after reviewing parents replies and following the lead of the kids in class, she determined that the kids wanted to reach out to families that were hurt that day, to share their love. From her description, they made a poster where they included pictures and words expressing their love and concern. Given their age, and their standing on the border between child-like innocence and I-know-everything-Mom, I thought it was a good exercise for my son to participate in. I appreciate his teacher’s sensitivity in reaching out to the families in her classroom and hurray for internets and technology so she could!

    1. What an amazing teacher you have. I love that she took the time to ask each parent what had transpired at home. That’s really above and beyond.

  27. Here in Ohio we received a call from our schools yesterday. It was a comforting message with a statement of safety and understanding and they let us know that counselors were available if any kids had questions or wanted to talk. I admit that I wasn’t all that thrilled to send my kids off to school today but I did, and when I walked Ivy in to her school I was okay until I saw the faces of the teachers in the hall, and what was in their eyes. That was hard.


    1. I could hardly look them in the eyes. The smiles were so…complex.

      I really feel grateful for our heroic teachers every day. It shouldn’t take this to remember that.

  28. I love your mom’s words. I did not allow myself to think much this morning as my high schooler & middle schooler got on their busses, and I’m very glad my own school is already out for winter break because I think my students & I would all be more than a little edgy.


  29. My 3 kids are all too young to know and I’m grateful for that. The older two went to preschool today (they are 4.5 and 2.5) and from what I can tell (husband did the drop off/pick up today) it was business as usual. They go to a small Montessori. I have been privately crying all weekend and even at the dentist this morning.

  30. Longest day ever. We got an email from the principal stating that discussions would be had in classrooms grades 2-5. My son is in first grade. Thank God. He came home knowing no more than I told him this morning. I’m so grateful.

  31. While I am not feeling particularly worried about my kids right now, I am so very grateful our last day of school was Friday and we’re now on holiday break. Much of the last 72 hours has been spent watching some form of Hobbit/Lord Of The Rings, on the couch, eating whatever’s easy, losing ourselves in another world, together.

  32. I have been contemplating this issue all day. My friend tweeted this morning: “Just had the most terrible conversation with my 3 1/2 year old about what to do if he sees a man with a gun at school. #godblesstheusa”

    I emailed him privately, asking if he’d really done that, and he wrote back: “Yes, for the same reason he learned to stop, drop and roll in case of a fire – bad things happen, and he should know what to do just in case. Why wouldn’t I tell him? I’d love for him not to have to be exposed to every horror this life has to offer until he’s older – unfortunately, it’s my responsibility as his Father to prepare him for the world that is, not the world I wish it was.”

    I told him I completely disagreed with him, but haven’t been able to formulate why, exactly, nor have I wanted to get into a ‘my parenting style is better than yours’ pissing match, because I don’t think that’s what this is about. My kids are 5 and 3, and I definitely didn’t breathe a word about the tragedy to either of them. I spent most of the day feeling like that was the right decision, until a friend mentioned that one little girl in one of the classrooms survived by playing dead. How did a 6-year-old know to do that? Are we supposed to teach that? The thought of teaching my kids how to play dead in case someone is killing their friends is … well it’s just horrifying.

    This morning I sent my kindergartner off to school as usual, but sent a thank you note to his teacher first. Then I posted it on my blog, hoping to inspire others to do the same, and I’ve been touched by how many shared it, and wrote letters of their own to the teachers in their lives. Your daughter’s principal said it best: We owe them our trust and our gratitude, because we place what is most precious to us in their hands every day. One day at a time…

  33. Thank you, Liz. I combined my concerns that my own first grader’s ignorance would be trespassed with concerns for the safety of the high schoolers in my care as a vice principal today. Lots to process, and you captured the nuances.

  34. My happy 7 year old waves at me with wild abandon from the window of the school bus every morning. Waving goodbye is something I never miss doing…it definitely took on new meaning for me today too. So sad watching it go.

    I chose not to tell my kids, but they didn’t wear their “no I don’t know” necklaces to school and came home with a big news story to share with me today. I guess I can’t expect them to stay sheltered.

  35. We decided not to tell our 6 yo, even though it’s all my husband and I have been thinking about since Friday. He came home yesterday none the wiser. I don’t know if we kept it from him because that would be best for him or because it would be easiest for us. Kids, including ours, surprise us with their resilience in the face of such things. And yet… ours cried for 15 minutes this morning because he didn’t want to put on his shoes. The different planes of existence are sometimes mind-shattering. But that’s all we want as parents, to let them be on the 6 year old plane for at least a year. I went to check on him a few times during the night last night, just because. Picked up a teddy bear that had fallen out of the bed, thought of the row of teddy bears on the news, started crying uncontrollably… Kept waking up during the night dreading the morning when I would have to let him go again.

  36. Thank goodness for your mom friend. This line is so true: “Holding an adult hand has its own restorative qualities sometimes.”

    I can only imagine how hard yesterday must have been for you, having younger children. My kids are 11 and 13, and I was still in tears when they walked out the door.

  37. I hate folding socks. Last night I cried folding my kids’ socks because I was so thankful to still have a reason to fold their socks. Those families suffering…..and I still get to fold socks.

  38. Thank you for being able to construct your thoughts into a digestible, comforting message. I feel a sense of obligation to write something, anything, on my blog about this horrible tragedy and I have not been able to piece a sentence together without completely bawling right onto my keyboard. I’ll get there, but oh. my. goodness. is this hard.

    I stressed all weekend about whether or not my 8 year-old had heard anything, saw anything, sensed something. I was ticked off that at my 2 year-old’s holiday concert Friday night, the entire room was discussing it openly amongst the children. What? Why? I haven’t even processed this and have no clue what I am going to say when the questions start coming. But none of us know what or why and discussing it helps, I am slowly letting my shoulders fall and accepting that we’re all fumbling our way through this.

    After reading your post I felt like you were holding my hand, so thank you again. It’s good to know that none of use really know and we’re going to do what we feel is right at that moment when those innocent eyes blink back at us and we need to respond. From the heart while trying to protect theirs.

  39. You made me cry (in a good way). I love the wisdom in your posts (“Any Mom’s Loss Is Every Mom’s Loss” and “Right-Wrong decisions”) and they comfort me as I question every move I’ve made about how to talk to my kids about this (who are older than yours). I can tell they are all trying to process this tragedy and each of them is handling it differently. Just like we are as adults. I do believe kids are resilient, more so than adults. Even so, thank you for holding my hand today too.

  40. Oh Liz I wept when I read the note from that lovely Principal. Then laughed when I read your mums advice. (So true.)

    I asked Max if he’d heard anything at school and he said no, pressing me for more info. Told him I’d tell him later. He’s forgotten about it, and I’m not going to remind him.

    ALL of my friends and the parents I know are talking about it down here, feeling it too. Just want you to know that.

    I love the way you write about things. You have a really clear and concise voice and it’s sorely needed in this big internet.

    Love to you xx

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