It was December 14, 2012 and I was excitedly preparing lunch for an old friend who was coming to visit me and my youngest son who had just turned 5-months-old two days before. As my friend and I ate sandwiches, listened to Christmas music, and got caught up on life, my mother called crying asking if I had seen the news.
I had not.
She begged, “Please don’t let the three older boys see this.” My three older sons were in elementary school at the time.
Like 9/11, that clear December morning changed life forever and what began as a normal day, ended in unspeakable heartbreak as 26 lives were taken by gun violence at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.
Of those 26 lost, 20 were first graders, children who were only six and seven years old barely out of Kindergarten. Babies really. Hearts across the world shattered into a million pieces for the parents of these children as we saw the terror and anguish etched on their faces.
We knew that they could be us.
Seven years have now passed since that hideous day and my newborn is now 7 years old and in the first grade just like the children who were killed in their classrooms. Not a day passes when I don’t think of Sandy Hook because it has forever changed the way I parent.
Sandy Hook has framed every aspect of my life as a mom because we live in a world where we send our children off to school knowing somewhere, in the back of our minds, that they might never return. As terrifying as that is, it has propelled me to reassess everything from that perspective, not out of fear, but out of gratefulness. Now, no matter how crazy our mornings are, I never send my son to school without hugging and kissing him and telling him that I love him.
When his older brothers were his age, I would cajole them to get off of the playground in the afternoons so I could get back to work, finish errands, or run them ragged to the next event or lesson. I was caught up in the daily tasks of life not thinking much beyond what had to be done.
I think of the parents of those precious children who sent them off that morning never comprehending that they might not come back and I realize the gift that I have in front of me. Making the most of every day and really taking a hard look at quality time over the frantic activity-laden schedules we’re so ingrained to create.
Now, instead of cajoling, I prioritize playing after school with classmates or whoever is around when the bell rings. We’re often the last ones to leave the playground even on the bitterly cold, dark days of winter and my first-grade son relishes it. We have gotten to know other families and developed new friendships, something that never would have happened if we rushed off into the busyness of life. Something that never would have happened were it not for my grief for the parents of Sandy Hook.
Being busy has become a badge of honor for parents. The busier you are the better. Often, with overscheduling comes stress and less time to sit back and really savor what blessings we have, namely time together. When I receive texts from my high schoolers that they want to come over with friends to make food and hang out, my first reaction is often “ugh” but then I think of Sandy Hook. Sandy Hook has taught me to say yes even if it’s inconvenient as we only have so much time with our kids. There are some nights I crawl into bed and wonder if I really looked at my husband and kids’ faces today with all the cacophony of life distracting me.
Kids grow fast and with three teens I know all too well how fast these years fly by, so with my youngest, I’ve shifted into neutral and vow to never forget the children and parents of Sandy Hook. To honor them, I’m living mindfully and valuing each moment that we have together as they were so cruelly robbed of the same.
May we never forget their loss.