As a mother and teacher, as a human being, I am emotionally affected when tragedies happen, especially when the victims are helpless, when the victims are children. I wrote this reflection after hearing the news about Sandy Hook Elementary on December 14, 2012, just days before Christmas. My sons were 11 and 13; my students were 12-14.
It’s as if I know them. But I don’t. And yet--
My God! My God!
I’m folding their clothes for the umpteenth time, the same t-shirts over and over again, by rote, the Georgia, North Carolina, Notre Dame and LSU tees go in one pile; while the Illinois, Northwestern, Texas and Chicago Bulls go in another pile; the 14 slim uniform pants and small blue polo get set to the left, always on the left, because the younger is left handed, and that’s why his backpack and lunch bag go by the left chair at the dining room table, the same chair where his red gym bag hangs with his #10 jersey; while the blue gym bag hangs on the right side with another #10 jersey with the same name ironed on the back. It’s always two piles, two chairs, two bags. The thought of only one just doesn’t compute, and I cry because I’m grateful, so deeply grateful, to have this daunting task of folding and organizing and scheduling for the sons who flippantly get dressed every morning, haphazardly pack up, and hurriedly run out the door with bags slung half-way over their jacketless shoulders.
My God! There are twenty mothers out there who will forever miss these daily vignettes, these seemingly meaningless moments and simple details, these basic reminders of who we are and who THEY are, on this day, in this time of our precious lives. My God! How many reminders will creep up on them without warning? To whom will their Christmas gifts go, the ones that Santa hid away in that secret place, the ones chosen especially for him, for her, because Santa knows they always make the “nice” list, because Santa knows them so well.
It’s as if I personally know these parents. But I don’t. And yet--
I’m in a grocery store. I reach for the hard shell tacos and turn back to pick up the soft tortillas. Both packages are in the cart, as are the cartons of chocolate and vanilla ice cream, the regular garlic bread and the cheesy kind, the grapefruit and the grapes. Two preferences, always. It’s a thought that usually irks me. What mom boils penne and spaghetti on pasta nights? What mom makes meatloaf and meatballs, serves pork roast sliced and pulled, plates grilled cheeses with American for one and provolone for the other…
Two brothers, as different as night and day, and yet they’re two peas in a pod. Their friends know them. Them. My sons. Across an entire room’s floor, they line up sports cards bought as gifts or with gift certificates from their favorite memorabilia shop owned by the legendary Chuck who’s been singing their praises for years, calling them the most knowledgeable sports-minded kids he’s ever met. Chuck knows them, too. As do their relatives who take calls for Bowl picks and NCAA brackets.
I know my own children, but I don’t know any of the victims. When I reflect, I feel as if I know them. But I don’t. And yet--
I’m in the classroom when we hear the popping sounds, like a car backfiring in the lockers and vibrating through the ceiling below our feet. The chattering of lit groups comes to an abrupt halt; twenty ashen twelve-year-old faces look to me with silent, gaping mouths. “Lockdown,” I say calmly, despite a pounding heart and shaking hands. Instinctively I lock the door, count the heads, grab the green screen to tape in the window when I notice a student taking a test in the hallway. I unlock the door without thinking, and I don’t need to say anything when our wide eyes meet, because my expression wills him into my room like a magnet. He follows my hand motion to join the others in the corner, a huddle of shivering shoulders, shushing fingers, rocking backs, and clasped praying hands. The click of the lock echoes this time, and it dawns on me that the green screen should now be red because now I have someone else’s child. The popping has stopped. I can’t risk uncovering the window, so I rush to be with my kids, crammed under desks and against the wall. One of my girls pulls my elbow, and with tears trickling down her cheeks, she whispers, “My little brother is in the first grade class beneath us.” My arms envelop her. “Everyone’s doing what they need to do, sweetie. It’s gonna be okay.” I scan the distance between our cradled spot and my cell phone in the coat on the back of my chair. It dawns on me that the principal’s lockdown code was never announced from the school office. I think I hear sirens…
I awake startled and press the snooze button with a racing heart, as if I’d been holding my breath longer than allowed. My students’ ashen faces fade into the sunlight streaming through the bedroom blinds.
It’s as if I know those teachers. But I don’t. And yet--