There’s a quiet tap-tap-snap as his growing hands fit LEGOs together, constructing a ship or fortress or something built from his imagination. I look at his back, illuminated in the glow of our Christmas tree and hunched over in concentration. I can’t help but smile. Now 10, he’s part-boy, part-man, and growing up so fast. But he still has a firm grasp on his childhood joys, and for that I am grateful.
There was a time not so long ago that I wondered if childhood was completely gone for my son. My son is a Sandy Hook survivor, part of a group of kids now in grades three through seven who’ve demonstrated grace, resiliency and courage since that day. They are amazing.
On Dec. 14, 2012, a deranged, heavily armed man blasted his way into my son’s school and murdered our school principal, school psychologist, four teachers and 20 children. Two others were wounded.
So much was taken that day — not just 26 innocent people, but a sense of safety, security and trust in the world.
In less than 10 minutes on that cold, December morning, Will’s childhood innocence was stolen. His belief that the world is inherently good was shattered. And in its place, a more mature understanding that good and evil co-exist, that you can’t control what will happen around you, that sometimes the world is terribly unfair, grew. He was only in the second grade.
But his childhood? Mercifully, it’s gone on.
In the days after it happened, I had to relearn how to parent. At first, it was hard to do anything more than just say yes to everything. But I had to. It took time, but eventually, we found our flow again. In the years that have followed, really living has been so important. We take every opportunity to infuse fun into our lives — whether it’s through stage productions, sporting events, movie nights or something else. We’re silly too, though that’s tempered with things we have to do — the nuances of life.
“Mama, what are we going to do after we go grocery shopping?” my son, asks. It’s Sunday, the day before the third anniversary of that day.
“Something fun. We have a game to play … and maybe we’ll watch a Christmas movie too,” I respond.
This is life. It’s simple and basic and ordinary, but that’s what makes it so wonderful.
“And try the crystal growing set?”
In those weeks after the massacre, life was in disarray. Nothing was the same. The children were fragile. The parents, myself included, were too. The things we counted on — the safety of our kids, the sanctity of school, the preservation of our children’s innocence — had been fractured.
At times, it seemed like there would never be those normal, ordinary moments again. We were all too broken.
But little by little, day by day, things improved. As parents supported parents, and a greater community supported each other, we got our lives back.
All of this is not to say we’re over it or we’ve forgotten. We can’t; that’s not possible. No, we live with what happened every day, remembering the 26 people lost — and the emotional consequences. It’s the reason that even on the most stressful, tense and rushed mornings, I pause before the kids get on the bus and kiss them, and tell them I love them. The driver can wait — that is just too important to skip. Ever.
We don’t live in Sandy Hook anymore. A little less than two years ago, we moved to Maine to a friendly place where we aren’t surrounded by reminders of that horrific day. Still, even moving away doesn’t erase what happened.
Earlier this year, I received a phone call from my son’s school. There would be a lockdown drill the next day — Will’s first since Dec. 14. When we’d moved, I’d asked for the courtesy of a heads-up so I could talk to Will and prepare him, and the school provided that.
“Are you sure you want him to participate?” the principal asked.
“Yes. He needs to.”
When Will went to school the next day, he knew the drill was coming and was OK with it. He knew this was mere practice, something for the kids who haven’t lived through a real-life lockdown. And he knew that in a real-life scenario, it wouldn’t be so simple. Everything went fine.
I knew it would. He is strong and smart.
As you move through the world today, take a moment to remember the 26 people who died that day. Be kind, always. Be brave. Be loving. Remember that life can change in an instant, leaving a stark before and after that alters everything. Don’t leave things unsaid. Don’t put important things off. And live. Really, truly live.