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Saying Goodbye: How Tragedy Changes Everything

This morning was like any other: I ground coffee beans and packed lunches and wiped crumbs from counter tops. I poured the milk and matched the shoes and inspected the homework from last night.

But when it came time to say goodbye, this morning was different. I hugged my kids a little tighter. I kissed them not once but twice. And in my mind a world of worry swirled, worry about what I can’t control. Pain I cannot touch. Fears I can’t share with my children or even say aloud.

This morning was like any other, but I would have said that Friday too. Everything shifted after learning of the tragedy at Sandy Hook School, and like all mothers, I’m still reeling.

Saying goodbye to my children today meant sending them into a world where I have very little control. It meant talking to my 9-year-old about things I wish I could have shielded him from knowing: senseless violence and unanswerable questions and the loss of 27 lives. It meant thinking about the security of his elementary school, which before Friday I would have said was exceptionally good. It even meant considering homeschooling as an option as a way to insulate my children from a culture that isn’t doing enough to protect them.

Since before they were born I’ve sought to do the very best for my family. During my pregnancies I gave up deli meat and swallowed prenatal vitamins that made me gag. It’s for the baby, I’d remind myself.

When they were born I read baby books and researched vaccines, had car seats inspected and placed safety latches on cabinet doors.

Now that they’re older I worry about their nutrition and exposure to chemicals and try to limit their time in front of screens. I often feel the weight of guilt about not doing enough.

As I’m reminded each time another tragedy occurs, though, ultimately I’m not in control.

If there’s a great irony of parenting it’s this: we worry, we advocate, we fight for their best interests. But in the end, they’re still vulnerable if our nation doesn’t demand more.

More resources.

More safety measures.

More action and less divisiveness.

This time of year, the innocence of children is a sacred thing. It’s a season of magic, of granting wishes, of focusing on holiday traditions they’ll remember all their lives. Perhaps that’s why the feeling of grief is magnified.

In a small town in Connecticut, there are 27 families whose holiday season—and lives— will never be the same. Parents all across the country can only imagine their pain, and in our grief we try to control what is ultimately outside of our power. Sending my children to school today was incredibly difficult, but there are 20 little children and 6 educators who don’t have the option of ever returning to the classroom.

Tragedy has a way of stripping away at things that don’t matter. Today I’m standing in solidarity with all parents who stood at bus stops or looked out through minivan windows this morning and waved a silent, excruciating goodbye.

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