On the morning of December 14, 2012, in Newtown, CT, an armed individual who will not be named because he deserves no fame or notoriety entered Sandy Hook Elementary School.
In one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history (with some of the youngest victims), this murderer shot through the window next to the security door and was immediately confronted by the school principal and school psychologist. After he murdered both of these heroes, he began to move from classroom to classroom murdering teachers and students. By the time he took his own life, he had massacred 28 people and injured 2.
At about the same time, a little over 100 miles away, in Voorhees, NJ, I had just delivered my first son, three weeks early via emergency c-section.
It was a difficult delivery. I was put under anesthesia and didn’t have the chance to hold my precious little boy for hours after delivery as he was taken to the NICU and I was taken to recovery. Though the delivery was traumatic, unexpected, and difficult; it was undoubtedly the most pivotal day of my life, in the best possible way.
As my son’s 6th birthday approaches, reminders of the tragedy that shares his special day are all around us. Each year, the media coverage amps up in the weeks leading up to the anniversary of this devastating event.
It has been difficult, as a mother, to come to terms with the fact that the unequivocally best day of my life, was such a horrifying day for the parents of those 20+ children whose lives were senselessly taken that very same day. I’m filled, each year, with renewed anger and frustration that our most special day also holds the most terrible, most horrific nightmare any parent could ever imagine. I celebrate my son, while I silently remember those children and adults who do not celebrate anymore, and my happiness for my son is colored with fear, anger, and grief.
As I was awakening from anesthesia and waiting to meet my baby for the first time, already overwhelmed by emotions, I turned on the TV and was profoundly impacted by what I saw. Though I’d only been a mother for a few hours, at that point, and I’d yet to even hold my son, something had changed inside of me. I felt the pain of the distraught, terrified, helpless parents on TV in a way I never would have before. The image of my husband reading the newspaper the following morning as he sat in the chair across the room from me is burned in my mind. The front page, which I could see from my bed while holding our beautiful, fresh little boy, showed the face of a crying mother. And I felt her pain in a real and deep way. Somehow, I’ve shared an unlikely connection with these parents; that as their children left their earthly lives, mine began his.
My son’s birth is forever entwined with this tragedy in my mind. I cannot separate the two.
I think the most horrifying thing about a school shooting is the fact that school is supposed to be a safe place. And, what made this particular school shooting even more shocking was the age of the students/victims.
The decision to send our children to schooling outside of our home has been something I’ve personally struggled with since day one. It is still a struggle every single morning as I give them extra hugs and kisses before leaving them in the care of virtual strangers. Letting go of our little ones is hard. Putting our kids in the care of others is one of the hardest, bravest, and most faith-filled things that we do as parents. It takes so much trust but also leaves so much uncertainty. What will happen once I let them out of my sight? Will they be safe? When did schools become a place we fear sending our kids? How did that happen?
I remember seeing a tweet go viral following the 2017 Las Vegas concert shooting. The tweet said:
In retrospect, Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate. Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over. @DPJHodges
This is not solely a gun control issue or solely a mental health issue. Gun safety and school shootings mark the intersection between mental health care and gun control. A sane person does not kill 28 people. But even an insane person cannot kill 28 people in less than 5 minutes without guns. It’s time for both sides of the debate to listen to each other and work together to keep our kids safe.
But I digress.
This year, the anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting is especially difficult for me as it is the first year both of my little boys are in school full time. It is also the year that my sweet baby boy, born on December 14, 2012, turns 6. The very same age as 16 of the victims.
I’ve decided that this is the year that I will tell my son why mommy sometimes cries on his birthday. It may seem young, but we’ve already broached the issue of potential school violence as his school regularly practices school safety drills following the A.L.I.C.E protocol. I will spare him the specific details, but I will tell him about the angels who left this earth when he was entering. I will say each of their names to him and we will pray for them and their parents. We will place a candle on his birthday cake for each of the children who never got to celebrate their next birthday. We will remember them all as he blows out his candles and makes a wish. And, I will remember the parents, who never again got a chance to watch their children blow out the candles on their birthday cake. Hopefully, this act of remembrance will become a small part of my son’s yearly birthday celebration.