I have written and then deleted about ten different posts regarding my feelings on the Sandy Hook tragedy. Written because what happened matters, those kids matter. Deleted because I do not really have anything to say that hasn't already been said. And I don't want to offend or piss anyone off (despite the millions of tears I have spilled for the victims, remember my actual job is as an advocate for the perpetrator of these types of horrible crimes). But mostly I don't want to just write something trite and self-serving, something all about me and how much I love my kids. But that is exactly what I have been thinking about most. How much I love my kids. And my niece and nephews. And my friends' kids. And if anything like this happened to any of them, life as I know it would cease to exist.
Years ago I heard a story from a man who spent a lot of time working with women in a federal correctional facility (it might have been at a work conference, it might have been on NPR...I can't remember). Anyway, this guy said that when it was visiting day at the prison and the women would get to see and hold their children, they spent a significant amount of time smelling their kids. Sitting and smelling. Breathing in the scent of their kids, taking it with them. I have thought about that story lots over the past four and a half years, especially while spending many a night with a sick or sleepless kid. Smelling them. Breathing in their scent. Taking it with me. I have done an inordinate amount of smelling Norah and Louis over the past several days, my face nestled in their necks.
Norah is salty sweet. She smells a lot like shampoo and a little like sweaty kid. A little like strawberry yogurt and a lot like cinnamon chex. Lou is sweetly salt. He smells a lot like the lotion I put on his eczema spots and a little like shampoo. A little like dirt and a lot like ketchup. I pretty much can't get enough of either one of them. And while it sounds so cliched, so banal...I want to hold on to every bit of them, suffocate myself with their scent.
My kids know nothing of what happened at Sandy Hook. Louis has no comprehension of anything beyond his world of Cheerios and fire trucks. Although Norah obviously understands a reality outside of her immediate wants and needs, she is still far too young to be able to process what happened in any meaningful way. Allowing her access to any information about the shootings would do nothing but invite terror and trauma. In the days following the tragedy, there has been a lot of discussion regarding how to talk to kids about scary things that happen in the world. I have seen this quote from Fred Rogers all over the place:
"When I was a boy and would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in the time of disaster, I remember my mother's words and am comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers--so many caring people in the world."
I think the sentiment is important. That there is a common thread that connects us as human beings. We understand and empathize with suffering. We do not want our fellow man to suffer. We search out those who will help to alleviate the suffering. While it is certainly a concept I want my kids to understand when the time is right, I do not think it can stop there.
We failed those kids in Connecticut, those families, that community. Thoughts and prayers and acts of kindness are important, but at the end of the day we have to make the necessary changes to do better. We have failed to implement effective and safe control of firearms. We have failed to provide effective and safe mental health care and treatment for the most susceptible and dangerous of our citizens. We have failed to provide a community that recognizes the needs of the most vulnerable and equips our parents, teachers, and fellow citizens with tools by which to actually do something. We have failed to be real helpers.
It is not enough to just seek out the helpers. I think I am a helper. (I know some may disagree, but at the end of the day my hope is that I can not only help my clients, but also help others to see the world in not such a black and white kind of way. I promise you, there is no such thing as pure good or pure evil). I want my kids to understand that they have a responsibility to be helpers too. To understand that the world is complex and sometimes scary, but they have been given the tools to make a significant difference in our social consciousness, and they have an obligation to use them. I do not know what form this will take--obviously that will be up to them--but I only hope that will be actively engaged in a professional or personal life that gives back, that seeks to alleviate suffering, that tries to make the world a safer place to be.
Until then I will do whatever I can to stop the madness from happening again. I have written my congressman, I have donated to the Sandy Hook school support fund. I will never forget those young and precious lives. I will advocate loudly for reform and participate in the process any way that I can. I will tell teachers how much I appreciate them. I will do my job and I will do it well. And I will smell my kids. Every day. Again and again. And again.