My six year old was supposed to take the bus home today, but I couldn’t bear it and showed up at school, alongside the bewildered throngs of numb looking parents.
People I have never met before smiled at me, if you can call an expression full of such sadness and shock a smile.
Moms I am acquainted with hugged me and we tried to wipe away our tears before our children emerged from the school building.
It was a surreal scene, the flag at half-mast and the atmosphere noticeably subdued. When she caught sight of me, my daughter beamed with surprise, asking curiously, “What are you doing here?” She accepted my lame response and gave me an extra long hug, as though she sensed that I needed it.
I had spent the better part of the afternoon sobbing in front of the TV while my toddler napped. When I called my husband to choke out the words, “I’m picking Izzy up at school instead of at the bus stop,” he immediately said, “Turn off the news.”
But I couldn’t. Perhaps this is one way in which individuals grieve differently, or process seemingly incomprehensible information in their own ways. I needed to watch it. For some reason, I felt that since I was lucky enough to not be a parent of a child who had been killed, or even a parent of a child in that community, I should not be “lucky” enough to pretend it never happened. In some way, absorbing every horrifying detail seemed like a responsibility; it felt wrong to turn off the TV and plug my ears.
We drove around and looked at Christmas lights tonight, while I forced back fresh waves of tears every time I imagined the future holidays of the grieving parents in Connecticut. When we returned home, I snuggled in bed with my first grader, and once again sang her special babyhood lullaby. I looked her deeply in the eyes and told her how much I loved her, how special she was.
And tomorrow I have to tell her what happened. I learned the hard way after the murder of a child in our community earlier this year that even six year olds could not be sheltered from hearing the truth from their peers. And this time I need to be the one to tell her; we can’t just cross our fingers and hope she doesn’t find out on Monday.
But for tonight, I wanted one last night where she didn’t know that it was even a possibility that a man could enter a school and shoot a classroom full of five year olds.
And tomorrow, I will tell my daughter the truth about what happened, and then I will lie to her. I will tell her that her school is safe. I will tell her that nobody is going to walk into her school and kill any children. I will pretend that the fact that anyone who enters the building has to go through the office first is going to prevent any danger. I will pretend that there are no skeletons in the closets of any parent or teacher in our community.
None of us can tell our children with complete honesty that they are safe when they get on their school bus, sit down at their desks, or even go shopping at the mall. But at six years old, even if it seems impossible to keep her safe, it is my job to make her feel safe. So I will love her enough to lie to her.