The talk. The slow return to normal. And the big tree.

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.

And yet…nothing.

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.

Another right-wrong/wrong-right parenting decision.

“You’re a big girl, honey–bigger than Sage. So I there is something I want to talk to just you about right now.”

“Okay mommy.”

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?”

“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.

I think Thalia will help me make snowflakes for Sandy Hook this weekend. If I feel it’s appropriate at the time, she will join us in Washington at the Million Child March for Gun Control.

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.





27 thoughts on “The talk. The slow return to normal. And the big tree.”

  1. We chose to send my son to the tiny neighborhood school for Kindergarten. He will be going to a much larger school for 1st grade. I have not talked with him about Sandy Hook. **I dont know how.** We have guns in our house LOCKED in a safe with the key where he cannot reach it. I feel like the gun control laws in their current incarnation worked as the shooter went to purchase a gun, but was denied because he didnt want to wait. He took the guns from a family member who likely had them locked under the same circumstances we do.

    I rejoice in my son’s innocence, his small school where everyone knows everyone else by sight and our daily walk to school. I *fear* putting him on the bus, where in the past I was so bullied and tormented that I once came home from school dripping wet from being spit on. I fear for his good heart, where he will choose to sit in the back of the room during assemblies, so that the littler kids can see.

    Someone once said having a child is like having your heart walk around outside your body. I didnt really know what that was like until just recently.

    1. I’d rather not speculate about what the shooter did or didn’t do because it is still unclear.

      I will just say (since you brought it up) that per the DOJ statistics, in its first 16 years (-94-2010) the Brady Law stopped nearly 2 million criminals and other unauthorized from purchasing firearms. However, only 40% of gun purchases are currently subjected to background checks. The loopholes are inordinate. Which means maybe we could have stopped more than 4 million? I don’t think it’s fair to say the current laws are working, not even in this case. A woman living with a mentally ill, unstable young man allegedly on medication that causes extreme violence had no problem taking him to the shooting range to fire semi-automatic weapons. There’s something very wrong with that picture.

      Like you, my heart is outside my body. It’s why I feel so passionate about doing every possible thing in my power to make sure they’re safe and not overlooking some of the most obvious solutions.

  2. The big question of why. Kids always have to ask why something happens and sometimes there is just no explanation for them.

  3. It’s amazing how children process such terrible information and at the same time, find the hope in tragedy. I told my children briefly last week because I was scared they wouldn’t hear it from me, and then spent that night terrified I said the wrong thing. Like your mom says, every decision we make is right. And wrong. That weekend the news way everywhere, even though we never turned on the TV: it was the topic of the homily at church, discussed by older brothers at a birthday party, and both kids noticed that all the adults were doing a lot more crying and hugging than usual. For me, I feel better that I told them. But I pray we never, ever have to do that again.

    (Hugs to your beautiful girls from their friends in Mass.)

    1. That’s how I felt too Karen. It wasn’t until a few days passed that I realized everything was okay here. (Thus my silence here the last few days.)

      I’m with you — let’s never do it again. Miss you all xo

  4. My kids still don’t know. They are 6 1/2 and 5. I think part of why we haven’t talked about it is because I still can’t comprehend what happened. I’m still a bit in shock that there are over 20 families who have presents for kids to open, who won’t be there on Christmas morning to open them. (I am using Christmas as an example).

    I think that my children could handle the news and would certainly ask why. I just am not ready–but your discussion with Thalia gives me hope that if my oldest hears and we talk about it, he’ll be comforted to know that while too many lost their life, that many more survived and that he will hold on to the good and the hope and not be overwhelmed with the tragedy and despair.

  5. As usual Liz, you inspire me. We had purposely decided not to tell our 6 1/2 year old about it, and like you, I spend every afternoon waiting on the edge of my seat to see if he heard anything at school. Waiting to see if he wakes from nightmares because someone with an older sibling said something. Waiting for it all to come crashing down so I actually have to say it all out loud. T’s response was so innocent and real. Should I gain the courage to tell our son this weekend, I hope the response we get is similar.

    1. There’s no right answer – you know your kids best. I just felt T would be okay and she was. But I didn’t tell her sister. Good luck in whatever you do.

  6. My girls’ father came over early last Saturday morning. We told the girls we had something important to tell them, and then we told them about the tragedy at Sandy Hook. Our 7 year-old asked the same question that Thalia did, “Why would anyone do such an awful thing?” We asked them how they were feeling. We told them it was our job to keep them safe. We said a prayer for the lost children and for their families and friends they left behind. We hugged our children tightly and kissed them tenderly. And, as children are able to do, they went on with their day. We, too, will be making snowflakes this weekend. Thanks for the great post, Liz.

  7. My 9 year old asked “Why?” and I had to say that there was no answer to that question that would make any sense. There may be explanations, but none of them truly answer “Why?”

    The 11 year old seemed to understand that I wouldn’t be able to answer “Why?” and she simply wept.

    I’m encouraged by people asking, “Why?” however. In the past week I’ve heard too many adults simply chalk it up to evil in the world and act as if we must accept it. People offering up more guns as a solution don’t seem very interested in “Why?”

  8. Mine are older (8&11) but I’ve decided to use the news as a reason to bring up difficult topics. We talked about the Penn State scandal and how they need to remember to keep their body private even with someone like a coach or teacher, who they trust and like. We even discussed why pot might become legal in some states and how it, alcohol and cigarettes are similar and different. I cringe and break out into a sweat beforehand, but each time I am glad that I’m doing this. I would avoid anything difficult otherwise and keep them happily hidden under a rock.

  9. Liz,
    You get it as right as anyone could. Thank you so much for sharing this. Let that tree be bigger and brighter each year! We all need to live in the light.
    Have wonderful holidays,

  10. This: “So most of them were ok.” Such a simple and yet extremely powerful observation.

    We’re having the older one teach the younger one how to make paper snowflakes this weekend. My 10 year old knows, and she’s thrilled to be able to *do* something.

    I still can’t look at the pics. I see my 6 year old son in all of those children. It hurts. But I can cut out some snowflakes and eat a taco and say thank you to the County Sheriff’s officer who came to school on Monday morning and walked the halls.

    1. I wore purple today in honor of Joey and I could hardly choke out the word as to why I was doing it. The wounds are deep. I understand. And yes…many, many thanks are in order to so many.

  11. As a mom of four and a library media specialist at a K-8 school, the Newtown tragedy affected me on multiple levels. At my kids’ school and at the school where I work, the decision was made to deal with questions on a individual basis (with the exception of my teenage son’s school where there was an assembly). At home, we made the decision not to tell our kids, and to keep the television off. My youngest are 5 and 8, and I knew that the 8 year old especially would have a difficult time processing the horror of it all. At my school, we had a snow day on Monday, so when the kids came back to school Tuesday, the news was a few days removed.

    It’s difficult to know what to do in such circumstances. I believe the best we can do is to keep to the routine. Normalcy and routine make children feel safe.

  12. Liz, I am so fascinated by the way kids respond. My son Noah asked exactly the same questions that your daughter did, and took reassurance from the same facts.

  13. I just read your post and wept. I needed to see how some folks are addressing this with their precious children. I’m a kindergarten teacher and I have been so distraught. You know, I would take a bullet for any one of my students without a thought, they’re my kids. I don’t know of one teacher who wouldn’t. But, I will have to quit the day that I am asked to carry a gun. That is one lesson I will NOT teach my children…how to shoot to kill. More guns are not the answer. Just know that the number one thing on a teacher’s mind is keeping your child safe…every moment of every day.

    1. I’m with you Stephanie. And thank you so much for what you do, and all those other teachers like you.

  14. There’s no easy way to talk to our kids about Newtown, that’s for sure. I’m sure both our situations were playing out across the country. There’s a fine balance between too much information and not enough, and I definitely miscalculate that balance on a regular basis.

    1. I think we all miscalculate everything all the time. My mom used to tell me “this is my first time being a mom, and your first time being a kid.”

      I tell my girls that sometimes now. We can only do what we think is best at the time.

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