Moving On – Life After Newtown

People want to move on. Move forward. Laugh. Stop crying. I get it. I want all those things too. I am moving on and forward. I’m laughing a lot and I’ve really cut back on the crying. But the haunted feeling I’ve had since the Newtown shooting is always just under the surface. It fills every gap and silence. Sometimes it seizes me entirely.

Last week I fled Target in a panic. As I shopped I constantly looked for places to stash my 3-year-old in case a crazed lunatic opened fire; I suspiciously studied the other holiday shoppers, wondering which one was the one who would render me daughterless or her motherless. I finally found myself in the center of the store with no Sally-sized hiding places. As my panic rose, I knew that I was leaving sane thinking, but I couldn’t rein it in. I left the store and drove home with my heart in my throat.

But life is moving on. Especially for the people who don’t know that anything has happened. My kids are still blissfully unaware that the world is a dark and scary place. They never noticed the meaningful looks passed between parents at school drop off – the ones that said, “I’m scared to leave too, but what can we do?” They didn’t notice the looks between teachers and parents either – the ones that said, “Please take care of him, and stay safe, and oh God, oh God!” And because they are so blissfully unaware, they are unchanged.

Which means they are just as irritating as ever. I’m fully aware of how horrible it is for me to be annoyed by my living, breathing, beautiful children at this time when we should all appreciate living, breathing, beautiful children. I should do a lot more cherishing. I want to. But…

They don’t listen.
They fight with each other constantly over anything.
They are sneaky.
They lie.
They make messes.
They cry and complain.
And they won’t put their damn shoes on.

Which is to say that they are normal children.

I find myself wracked with guilt after a bedtime routine full of frustration, threats and warnings. Just last week wasn’t I swearing I’d always sing one more song? Always hug and kiss one more time? But then today we had that car ride with all the fighting; and there was all the whining; and there was us in the restaurant and the screaming fit… and DAMMIT GET IN HERE AND BRUSH YOUR TEETH ALREADY!

I’m so torn between telling myself that it’s OK that life in my family is as it ever was, and feeling like the worst sort of person because life in my family is as it ever was. I know that there are so many families whose lives are forever broken. And I know, or imagine I know, how badly they wish they were in my situation instead of theirs. So why can’t I just hold it together better? Why can’t I appreciate my vibrant children while I’m still lucky enough to have them in my arms?

Are you struggling with this too?

Getting there. Trying at least.

I’m shaken and constantly on the brink of tears. I feel sort of maniacal and hysterical lately. My nerves are so raw that whether I’m laughing or crying it’s with gusto, and I can change in an instant from one to the other. It’s all just part of the healing process I suppose, but I’m trying like hell to laugh and still find the funny.

Like when I ask my 3-year-old if she can count backwards and, after a moment’s confusion, she confidently turns her back to me and starts counting, “1, 2, 3…” Priceless.

I try hard to focus on my kids and their happiness. Not the kids who aren’t here anymore to fill their homes with noise. Not the kids who have witnessed the unthinkable and need to grapple with the impossible. Not the parents. Not the teachers and their families.

When my mind starts to wander to dark places, I try to come back to the kids right in front of me. I listen to Sally’s ridiculous pronunciation as she sings, “Gingle bells, gingle bells, gingle all the way!” I watch Luke dance, which he does with exuberance if any music is playing. He dances in stores and restaurants, around the house. He cannot help but feel the groove.

As the bus pulls away I try to think about the excitement my little man feels about his big independence. About the conversations he has with his friends which are entirely silly because they are by nature such silly creatures. Not about how I’ve let him out of my arms into the unknown. Not about the casual hugs goodbye that 20 parents gave their kids before school on Friday. Not about the inconceivable conversations his peers in Newtown are having with each other.

If you come here to laugh, I promise I’ll get back to funny as soon as I can. I think most people come here for a mix of laughter and comfort knowing you are not alone. So please take comfort in the fact that if you’re not OK, I’m not either. I have weird mixed emotions of guilt, despair, fear and anger, and slowly I’m finding little bits of humor in there as well. I’m all out of whack, so if you’re out of whack too it’s OK. If you’ve already found your humor again, spread it. We all need it.

 

Reflections after a tragedy

This weekend I loved my kids with abandon. I butterfly kissed, painted, baked, tea partied, and crawled around the house giving horse rides. I let them eat french fries and watch too much TV. They stayed up late, then we read extra books and sang extra lullabies.

This was one of the best weekends of my family’s life.

In between all of this, I wiped my tears away hoping no one noticed. I weathered sudden panics and blinked back tears again.

Everywhere I went I saw children radiantly accepting extra affection. Another kiss, squeeze, smile, tousle of the hair. Parents, brokenhearted, lavished their kids with love, attention, indulgence, and total appreciation.

What is normally taken for granted was decidedly not.

I can barely breathe when I think of the children, teachers, first responders, and community of Newtown. I picture the two little faces I know and love so well on every one of those lost kids. Dread and terror just don’t seem like strong enough words.

So I was present this weekend. I relished my son running around the house at bedtime wearing nothing but a pull-up and red cape. I ate up my daughter’s manipulative doe eyes and I gave her all the cuddles she craved.

Not understanding that anything was amiss, that part of the world broke on Friday, my kids did what kids do: took complete advantage of their mother’s apparent temporary insanity. They brazenly asked for dessert after breakfast, complete furniture rearrangement for an authentic home movie theater experience, later bed times, more candy. I said yes.

In the midst of my grief and fear, I’ve changed in a way that I sincerely hope can’t be unchanged. Despite all my sarcasm, frustration, irritability, and joking, my children are beyond precious to me. So why not just tuck them in one last time? Fetch one last drink of water? There are far too many parents out there tonight who can’t. They would give anything for a prolonged bedtime routine.