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Now She Knows {More Thoughts on Newtown}

I made a decision to take a holiday break from writing and blogging. This was not easy for me; I live for words. When I am not twirling my little girls around this big city, I am parked at Starbucks or Coffee Bean, plugged in if I’ve been lucky enough to snag an outlet, cobbling words together into questions and into stories. Originally, I had planned to continue my cobbling through the next few weeks, to steal moments to write, to record, to realize. But, suddenly, I feel an overwhelming instinct to stop, to stand still, to savor the season, to soak in the sweetness of my three tiny creatures. I know that many parents feel this way right now.

But here I am. Breaking the rules I made for myself. I am at another Starbucks. I’ve just come from my Kindergartener’s holiday breakfast. Never before have I been so thankful to go on a classroom scavenger hunt, to study little gumdrop-studded graham cracker houses, to eat donut holes, to hold her little hand.

Yesterday, in this very classroom, my little girl sat with her friends on that colorful and happy carpet and she and her teachers and friends talked about what happened in Connecticut. We received an email last night from the teacher, an email that outlined the details that had come up. It was a hard email to read, but I felt a sense of trust and surrender that her teachers did the right thing by allowing the children to talk about what they knew, to have the chance to make sense of things together, to have the chance to be reassured.

But here’s the rub, the thing I can’t get over: In the span of one morning, my girl was introduced to several subjects we’ve worked hard to shield her from: death, guns, murder, mass murder, suicide, school violence.

All I can think: Now she knows.

After school, she didn’t say anything, but I felt it was important to ask her about the discussion. I asked her if they talked about anything serious in morning meeting and my girl looked at me through her bright blue eyes and bright purple glasses and she ran through the facts she knew. Angry man. School. Twenty kids. And the fact that she knew it was kids in school broke my heart into a million pieces. She held it together so I followed suit. And then she said something, something brilliant and divine and heartbreaking.

We are safe at school, Mom. Because we have security guards and everyone who comes into the school must show their idea.

Show their idea.

I pulled her close to me, suffocating her with a hug that was as much for me as it was for her, burying my face in her puffy purple parka. When I came up for air, I held her little cheeks in my hands and I asked her if she was okay. And she, my girl, my itty-bitty philosopher, thought about this. And then she looked at me again and nodded and said something, something simple, something I will not forget: I think we are all very sad about this, but I am okay.

And I nodded, the tears coming and fast. And she added a little something more, another something that shook me. I don’t think this is going to happen again.

And I looked at her, my firstborn, my innocent and now suddenly worldly creature, and I said to her something I tell myself because it has to be true: I don’t think this is going to happen again either.

As we pulled up to our destination, I kissed her and kissed her, and unbuckled her seatbelt. We then did a little impromptu Christmas shopping. We found panda earmuffs for her four-year-old sister and a horse “nay-nay” nightgown for the baby. And she was so proud of herself for finding the perfect gifts for her little sisters, and her smile was big and bright, as pure as ever.

We walked home in the evening darkness and drizzle. I held her hand and we walked by stands selling big trees and people carrying big shopping bags. I wonder if she noticed I was holding her hand tighter than ever, if she could tell that my mind was a mangled, grieving, grateful, mommy mess.

Soon, we were home.

And today is another day, and we were back in that classroom, that happy room that has become her home away from home.  When the little breakfast party was over, I bent down and hugged and kissed her goodbye and I got my coat, bright pink to contrast the grayness that grips me, and I went back out into the world, a world that can be so devastating sometimes.

And here I am, at a little table with my little laptop, coping in the way I know how, cobbling words together, processing, trying to process. I sit here, alone and alive, in a sea of stories and souls. There is Christmas music playing. It is happy music, music from childhood, and I am doing what I can to feel it, to feel okay.

Despite efforts to buck up and move on and feel festive, I sit here, emotionally exhausted, three words drumming through my head: Now she knows.

How do we begin to process these things? How do we begin to help our kids process these things? I don't know, but maybe by writing words and reading them, by showing our ideas, by having conversations even if they are cripplingly hard, by forcing ourselves to do happy things like go to holiday parties and sip big coffees and buy goofy little gifts, by looking each other in the tear-soaked eye, and asking what I asked my darling babe in the back of that cab: Are you okay?

Okay. Now I am really going on break. But I had to write this. And I thought about publishing it over at HuffPost, but concluded that this cozy corner is the right place for these more fragile words. See below for some links to other pieces on Newtown that I've found to be very powerful. If you have any thoughts on any of this, or have written or read anything thoughtful on this tragedy and its aftermath, please leave a comment with links below. Thanks, guys.

My Holiday Break

Eleven Secrets @ Eleven Months