I Was A First Grade Parent: Remembering Newtown

This post has been on my heart to write for months upon months upon months. As I sit down to write it, again and again, I do so with tear-filled eyes and a broken heart.

Five years ago, I was a first grade parent. 

I attended fall conferences. I tried, and failed repeatedly, to help my child learn to read. The transition from a half-day of kindergarten to a full-day of first grade was not an easy one. My daughter struggled to connect with her teacher, whose demeanor was just a bit more strict than her sensitive spirit was accustomed to. And though there were only three first grade teachers, it seemed that all of her close friends were in other classes. I worried, as mamas are prone to do. 

But my daughter tried hard, and seemed to be catching on to her schoolwork. She was making friends in class, and had a birthday coming up. Christmas was coming, too, along with a break from school. We were looking ahead, with excitement and anticipation. Life was so normal, if not mundane. 

At the time, I wasn’t one to follow the news too religiously. But I started to hear snippets of news coming out of a small, picturesque town that I had never heard of. Another school shooting. But at an elementary school? What? How? Child victims. All first-graders, whose names and innocent faces slowly started being released to the public. I stared into those school pictures, probably taken only weeks earlier, and saw my own first-grader. 

I wept as we celebrated my daughter’s seventh birthday the following day. While CNN news played on mute in the corner of the nail salon we sat in, the stark difference in these two realities physically pained me. The birthday party and the devastating loss of lives barely started. Joy and anguish. Life and death. I thanked God that my daughter couldn’t read yet and would never understand the words that crossed the screen. I wavered between feeling gratitude for the opportunity to celebrate another birthday with my daughter and necessity to bear witness to the grief of other mamas, not too unlike myself. 

Necessity to bear witness to others’ grief often won out for me. I wept through every interview of every parent who lost their child. I wept for every parent who chose to grieve privately, out of the harsh lights of the media. I wept for every educator who lost her life trying to protect the children she loved. I wept for my own daughter’s teacher, the one she struggled to connect with, confident that she would give her life to protect my daughter, too. Perhaps most teachers would give their lives to protect their young charges. I wept as I dropped my first-grader off at school the following Monday, knowing that there truly were no safe places left on Earth. 

My daughter’s closeness in age with the children who died inside Sandy Hook Elementary School gave me a sense of shared grief, despite our distance. The world we raise our children in felt more violent, and less safe. I wrestled with paralysis as I tried to accept that we can do all the “right” things for our children, and still lose big. Still lose everything. 

My world, and the worlds of mamas all over the country, changed that day. The tragedy in Newtown forever altered the way I see parenting. Not one day since has been mundane in our family. Each day is tinged with both gratitude for its existence, and fear of its ending. Life will never be “normal” again, nor should it. More importantly though, I know with everything in me, that I can never fathom the depth of the agony experienced by the mamas who lost their sweet babies. I can never fathom the ways that that community has forever changed, after being thrust into the international spotlight for a most unwanted reason. 

Five years have passed since that day. Five long years that twenty families in Newtown have lived without the children they bore and raised. I write today so that you know I think of you and pray for you often. From one mother to another: I think of you and pray for you every time my daughter achieves a milestone. Every time I see qualities that you described of your children in mine. I know that you should have sent a child to middle school this year. I prayed for you as I sent mine. Today, I write so that you know your children are not forgotten. 

I am fully, painfully aware that words can never soothe even a fraction of your pain. Furthermore, I know that “thoughts and prayers” have become almost an offensive statement. Please know that in the past five years, I have also taken action to support initiatives I believe in, spread kindness in our community, and taught my children to do the same.

In honor of yours.

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