Last weekend was a typical one for my family. My husband, son and I ran errands, cleaned our house, baked cookies, played with Legos, created masterpieces in finger paint, and did considerable amount of lounging in pajamas. There were baths, temper tantrums, goldfish crackers and Blue’s Clues. It was a weekend like any other; except for those moments when the world seeped in and we were reminded of the horrific events that transpired in Newtown, CT last Friday. Grief stealthily and repeatedly breached the suspended-reality of our weekend bliss, quickly and without warning. We temporarily forgot, because we had the luxury of forgetting, until some seemingly mundane moment would remind us of what another family had lost.
This was one facet of parenthood for which I was ill prepared: the profound, visceral way you hurt for those you’ve never met. Decades of cynicism left me stunned by the realization that knowing what it is to love a child permanently binds you to everyone who has ever known that feeling. You’re inextricably tied to all others who know that love, terrifying and beautiful in its intensity. It’s the kind of love that turns you into an exposed nerve, likely to collapse at any jolt the world delivers. After my son was born, I couldn’t watch the news for six months. The instinct to protect this tiny, helpless little person was so new, and so overwhelming, I simply could not acknowledge what I was up against. I had to close my eyes, cover my ears, and shut out all the cruelty and horror that exists in this world. I had to ignore everything I couldn’t control.
On Friday, there were 20 families who lost their children in one inconceivably horrible act of violence. Children whose parents held them as newborns and felt the same weight of responsibility as I. Children whose parents would have moved heaven and earth to make sure they never felt an ounce of sadness, or pain, or fear. The pain those families are feeling is a reminder of just how little control we have; that, as parents, our hearts can be ripped away from us in an instant. And you grieve, not only because it could happen to any of us, but because it happened to them.
As I sat awake writing this, my son woke up. For some reason, he refused to get back into his bed, so we curled up together on the floor of his room. As I held his hand, I thought about what it would be like to find out I’d never hold that hand again. That I’d never smell his hair, or kiss his cheek, or see him smile and crinkle his nose in that certain way he does when he just knows he’s said something really funny. I thought about those things until it felt as though the oxygen had been sucked out of my lungs, and all I could do was lie next to him and sob. My son is my air, and my heart breaks for all those families that will spend the rest of their lives trying to catch their breath.