Explaining The Sandy Hook Elementary Tragedy To Your Young Child: Let Them Lead YouChristine Coppa
I watched the horror unfold on the Internet while at the magazine. A blog on CNN.com kept me updated. I was working on two accessory stories. My eyes moved from the computer screen to my five-year-old child—3 pics taped on my monitor. He was in Kindergarten. It was pizza day.
Uncle Carlo works in law enforcement, specifically in a federal unit that deals in firearms, and lived in Connecticut for several years. His friends were on the scene.
Left desk several times.
Anxiety. Didn’t eat lunch.
Learned children of friends and family were on lockdown in Connecticut, but not specifically Sandy Hook Elementary.
A text from Uncle Carlo. “Tell dad to get JD early. Just listen to me.”
I called my dad immediately. “Carlo said to get JD.”
My dad got JD and brought him to my condo where my mom and Max the dog were waiting. No one told him why he left school early.
It was nearing 3PM at the magazine. The accessory stories I was working on were now approved. The credits were filed with my editor. I left, swiping one of JD’s Christmas gifts that I was stowing under my desk.
I drove home listening to Coldplay’s Fix You on repeat. When you lose something … you cannot replace.
When I opened the door to my condo, JD (and Max) came running to me, “Mommy! What are you doing here? The light is still outside!” He’s used to me picking him up at school around 6 pm or coming home late from work.
I dropped my purse and the gift on the floor and swept him up in my arms, pressing his little warm body against mine. I smelled his shampoo-y hair from the night before. “I love you, baby,” I said. Max was pawing on me. My mom had tears in her eyes. JD’s big owl eyes caught sight of the unwrapped gift. “You got me the coolest toy!” He said picking it up. “It’s all the Star Wars guys!” he said, running into the den.
I opened the box for him and watched him play, strategically setting the little action figures up and opening the spinner pods. “Vrrrroooom,” he said as he pushed the ship across the table. “This is so cool!”
I tucked him in tight that night and pulled the little, blue accordion elephant that hangs on his closet door. His godmother brought it to the hospital the day he was born. Soft twinkle music filled his room. Max laid his head on JD’s legs. I stood in the doorway and watched him. Still. Breathing. Beating little heart.
I went to a friend’s place. We had some wine. “The world was an ugly place today,” I said. “For the victims,” he said. We clanged our glasses together.
The weekend pressed on. We had lunch with Santa on Saturday. JD beamed. My girlfriends took me out for my birthday. We danced. Both events were fun, but shadowed with sadness. It felt wrong to be … eating lunch with Santa and drinking champagne with my girlfriends. I know this strangeness. I know how it feels when bad things happen in the blink of an eye, yet people still string lights on their homes and order lattes; read the newspaper. Nothing has changed. Everything has changed. This time, I was on the other end of it. Keeping it together for my son.
On Sunday, it rained. It was raw and cold out. Angels were weeping and I wept with them. I camped out on the couch with JD all day. He saw me going through my iPhone. I was on the memorial Facebook page for the victims. He caught view of a bright photo and stopped me.
I didn’t tell JD about the shooting. He’s 5. Last night President Obama said, “Every parent knows there is nothing we won’t do to shield our child from harm. Our most important job is to give them what they need to face the world w/out fear.” I’m letting him face the world without fear. For now.
So, when he asked me about this picture he saw on Facebook I told him the truth.
“Mommy, that’s Brandy,” he said. (I grew up with a golden retriever and there’s a photo of her in our condo. JD knows she’s in heaven.)
“Yes,” I said. And frankly, the photo moved me too. Why is their a golden retriever in this photo? It comforted me, nonetheless.
“Is that heaven, Mommy?” he asked.
“It is baby,” I said. “And that’s Jesus, who we read about and hear about in church.”
“Those kids look so happy to be with Brandy, Mommy” he said in his innocent, squeaky voice, not connecting heaven with death — but life after death.
God bless the victims in the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy. I weep with you all.
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