Why Newtown changed me forever
Doo doo doo doo doooooo, driving home from the library where I just dropped off eleven books that were just a few days late and one book that was due seventeen weeks ago but I didn’t know about it until the library called me to ask me where the F it was so I had to search around the house like a maniac and finally found it under Holden’s mattress. WTF, kid, it’s a book about ferrets, not a Playboy.
Hmmm, maybe I’ll take a longer route home. You know, because it’s the scenic route. Bwhahahahaha. There is no such thing as the scenic route in our town. Ohhhh, look at the beautiful sunset over DSW. Seriously, that’s as pretty as it gets. Not that I haven’t bought some seriously beautiful shoes there.
Anyways, no, there is another reason I’m deciding to take the longer route home, but I’m embarrassed to tell you. I’m a little scared you’re gonna think I’m a nutjob. Not that you don’t already think that, but even more of a nutjob. Okay, wait, before I explain why I take the longer route home and embarrass myself, here’s the backstory.
So a few years ago, I was at a playdate and my friend and I had this conversation.
BELLE: Did you hear about the boy in Springfield?
ME : No.
BELLE: At the hot dog place?
ME : Do I want to hear?
Nope, no, I do not want to hear. Because even though I’m sitting there praying she says something like, “He found a finger in his French fries” or “He got kicked out of the restaurant for pooping on the table,” I’m pretty sure from the tone of her voice that this is going to be worse. Much worse.
BELLE: He choked on a hot dog.
ME : (silence)
BELLE: And died.
A million questions go through my head. Where were his parents? Had they cut the hot dog in half? Were the kids sitting at a different table and no one noticed? Did they just find him slumped over and then realize? Did they notice while it was happening and try to do the Heimlich? Did they sweep his mouth with their finger and push the hot dog farther into his throat? Did the mother scream? Did the whole restaurant notice this was going on? Was the boy afraid? Oh my God, how awful.
And for years, I’ve been thinking about it. I mean not incessantly every single day, but pretty much every time I cut a hot dog in half for my kiddos, I think about that boy and his poor, poor family.
Before I had kids, this kind of story would spontaneously combust in my mind a few minutes after I heard it, but nowadays, there’s a little section of my brain where these stories stack up and haunt me. The boy who went to the public pool with his camp and drowned. The girl who was crushed by the bookshelf that fell on her. The two-year-old who went down for a nap and didn’t wake up. I mean this kind of shit doesn’t happen every day, but it gets talked about so much, you would think it’s not all that rare. And then I heard the worst one of all. I flipped on my television one day (thank God the kids weren’t around) and there it was. Newtown. Oh my God. Not OMG because this is way too serious for an acronym. Oh my God, oh my God, OH MY GOD. As I watched the news unfold, my heart broke into a thousand pieces for those families. I would say I can’t imagine, but I can. I imagine it all the time. What that scene must have looked like with all those adorable little first graders. The thought of waiting for your kid to come out of the school, and waiting. And waiting.
Hold on a sec, I need to grab a tissue. Seriously, it is impossible for me to think about Newtown without getting teary-eyed. And here’s the thing. It’s turned me into a crazy person. I mean the hot dog story made me start cutting my kids’ hot dogs down the center, and the bookshelf kid made me bolt my one and only bookshelf to the wall even though it’s in the guest room where the kids never go, and the two-year-old who never woke up made me watch the video monitor a little closer, but the Newtown story has literally made me act like a crazy person. It’s what makes me take the longer route home from the library. Not every day, but once in a while. Why?
Because the longer route means I can drive by my daughter’s school.
About a block away, I start looking for flashing lights. Are there any cop cars or fire engines? Nope, the school looks peaceful from the outside. But Newtown probably looked peaceful from the outside too. At least until everyone started running out. And then I’m closer to the school and I see a man going in. Is he a workman or a teacher or is he some messed-up kind of psychopath who has two guns under his coat that he’s going to whip out when he gets to the office? My mind starts to go to a bad place, but then I see that he’s just a sandwich delivery guy. Phew. But I hate that I even think this way. It cannot be normal.
And sometimes when Zoey’s jumping out of the car in the morning, I make her jump back in to give me a kiss or I’m careful to yell, “I love you!!” even though three minutes earlier I was going ballistic on her because she wouldn’t put her seat belt on. I make sure that last moment when I say good-bye for the day is extra loving. Because what if it’s the last time?
I can’t be totally crazy because I’m not the only one who’s thinking about the worst-case scenario. One day earlier this year, Zoey came home from school and told me they practiced a lockdown drill, you know, in case a skunk got into the building. That’s what they told the kids since they’re only kindergarteners and how can they tell a bunch of kindergarteners that it’s actually because a crazy man went into a school in Newtown and sprayed all the first graders with bullets and turned all those sweet little babies into angels. No, we can’t tell kindergarteners that.
I guess I’m a grown-up so I can handle it. But not really.
This was the hardest chapter to write in my new book I Want My Epidural Back. I pray I did justice to the difficult subject matter. It’s available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and everywhere else books and ebooks are sold. And don’t worry, the other fifty-four chapters might make you cry too, but only because you’re laughing so hard.
If you liked this, please don’t forget to like and share it. And don’t forget to say a prayer for all of these wonderful kids, teachers and their families. Thank you!!
I just read this chapter in your new book and cried. I’ll never forget this day. I’ll never forget the emptiness I felt. It made me so scared to send my kiddos to school. You’re not alone in the extra drive. I think this changed every mom forever…
I could’ve written this entire thing myself. My mind also has that ‘horrible scenario and stories’ compartment where it stores Every terrible story that I’ve heard or every worst case scenario that I have thought of or Been Told. I squeeze my kids extra hard every time they get on the bus and again when they get off it.
You’re not alone ? this world sucks because it’s not a safe place for our children. And learning to trust and let other adults take care of them and eventually to trust them to take care of themselves. The ‘what ifs’ get in my head and drive me crazy some days. This is such a hard thing to think about let alone discuss. Thank you for putting a chapter in your book about it ❤
Thank you for this post. I wasn’t a mom when Newtown happened but I am now, and I feel exactly the same. I hate that sick feeling I get when someone I don’t recognize (especially someone without a kid) comes up to the door at my child’s daycare when I’m heading in or out for drop off – should I be polite and hold the door open? Or should I slam it on them and make them swipe their key fob? I usually err on the side of politeness, but then that decision haunts me for hours – what if? And even if I don’t let them in, what if the next person does? Such a sad scary world we live in….
This makes me feel less alone, because I’m constantly scared of a school shooting happening, and now because of terrorism, in addition, I have to worry about something happening everywhere my kids and I go.
I cried reading this. I cried that day. I cry every time I see an interview with one of the parents. I cry after the kids go to bed when I’m feeling guilty for being an extra crappy mom that day thinking about how those parents would give anything for that crap moment.
Thank you for including this. It made me feel a little more normal for being so crazy.
Your commentary was spot on and I think aptly describes all of our worst fears.
Could you PLEASE separate the sales pitch for your books from your entries.
It always s takes away from your posts but is especially irritating and disrespectful with this post.
Thanks, and I have your books and am
A fan so don’t get all pissy about this.
The day that happened was the day I found your blog. I read your “don’t buy this s**t for my kids for Christmas” post. Thank you for making me laugh on a day that still haunts me. I had nightmares my sons first week of school. I feel the same way you do!
This is absolute truth. Newtown has changed me forever. My little guy was a first grader when it happened, and there was a little girl named Avielle whose birthday is the day after his. I remember her every year. I still can’t wrap my head around the reason why this happened, but I think about it often.
I have to tell you about an acquaintance of mine who’s children do go to that school. We are still friends on Facebook even though our lives went in different directions. Her daughter made it out alive but her teacher did not. The hell that they have gone thru on a daily basis since that day is heartbreaking and I say that only seeing an ounce of what they go thru that she might mention on Facebook because she needs to vent or something. So go ahead and drive past your kid’s school 20 times a day and don’t be ashamed of it. Keep honoring the memory of all those innocents who didn’t make it.
Just the week before it happened we had visited my son’s soon to be preschool. His room was on the ground floor right next to exit doors. I though, “Great – easy exit in case of emergency.” Then, on our first day of preschool, I was a snotty, bawling, gulping mess who couldn’t take off her sunglasses saying goodbye because I was terrified of leaving him in, what was just days prior a safe room, in the now “worst room in school because someone could shoot through the windows or break in the door and his room was first.”
I agree that I can partly imagine the terror and heartbreak – I also have imagined the absolute worst things since I became a parent. Let’s go on a cruise (is some drunk maniac going to throw my kid overboard?!) Let’s go watch fireworks (who is the nut ball in the crowd who will start shooting and have sounds muffled by explosions?) There are even some shows I can’t watch anymore (Criminal Minds) because I am a parent…
I live in CT. It was horrific. It’s still horrific every anniversary. My fiance had to attend a funeral spawning from that. His coworker’s wife was one of the teachers. It was a terrible, terrible tragedy. One that I hope never to experience first hand.
I am a School Resource Officer, and have an elementary school and a middle school to take care of. Our family resides in North Carolina and no, you are not the only one to think like this, or feel like this. I may not have any biological children, but I love them just like they are my own. I work extremely hard to build a relationship with these children and show them love, because deep down inside, I know some of them don’t get love anywhere else. I have had two kids at my school this year to find a parent dead from a drug overdose. A sixth grader shouldn’t even KNOW what Heroin is, much less what it looks like. We live in a small rural town just west of Charlotte, NC, and thank goodness, it’s a great area.
But on another note, thank you for being brave enough to write about this, and speaking about it. It is something that we hope will NEVER ever happen, but sadly, it does. I chose to work in the school setting. I get some slack from the others at the Sheriff’s Office, because they think we are just a “kindergarten kiddy cop” and just sit on our b**t and wait to retire. It is FAR FROM THAT. What I am trying to say, I work hard to keep your little loves as safe as I can. I have YOUR back. BTW, I love love love reading your articles, and can’t wait to read your book. My sister showed me your articles and I have been hooked since.
Wow!! You have no idea how glad I am to read this. I sometimes think I’m crazy because of how I can get the exact same thoughts as you have (how did this happen? was he scared? is the family OK?) out of my head after I read or hear stories involving children in horrific situations. I’m from Ontario, Canada and in September a drunk driver killed 3 children and their grandfather. All the children from one family gone in one moment. Since then, I can’t stop thinking about the grief that the poor parents must be feeling. And EVERY time, it makes me cry. And just like you, before I had a child, I would have never reacted in the same way. Thanks for this post!! BTW, if you would like to read the story I was talking about, here it is…
I’m crying, too. This past October, there was a ‘hold & secure’ at my 7 year old son’s school. I completely lost my s**t, and went flying over there, fearing the worst. Luckily, it was just some crazy teenagers who were driving erratically on school property. But still…I hate that I feel like this. :'(
You are not the only crazy parent to think and act this way. I will never forget that day. My oldest son was in 1st grade at the time and I was volunteering at his school on that day. I didn’t want to leave the school and leave him behind when my volunteer duties were done. I got home and cried, holding on to my younger two boys, waiting impatiently for my oldest to get home. I think any parent is anxious when our young children are away, in schools or daycares, these days. We just have to trust (as hard as it may be) that those in charge do whatever they can to keep our children safe and protect them.
We were in the process of evaluating a possible transfer to the US when this happened. I vetoed it and we decided, that day, that our children would not be raised anywhere in the USA.
Canada had a school shooting recently on a native reserve and we were all glued to the TV crying as you described and holding our babies just a bit tighter. Two kids died that day and it made international news. I remember the CNN reporter saying something to the effect that ‘This is big news in Canada because they haven’t had a child die in a school shooting in almost 9 years,’ and it made me sad that it wasn’t big news in the States if two kids got shot at school. That “only” two children dying would be likely considered commonplace.
Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to reading the new book–loved the first one!
When Columbine (sp?) happened, my oldest was just a year old. Watching the scene unfold, with tears streaming down my face, I clutched him close to me. Since that day, I’ve watched several scenes including Newton. Every time I cry. Every time I clutch my 5 kiddos close to me.
Your post hit close to home. Recently I received an automated call from my oldest son’s high school. All it said was something about an “online threat”, and that there were additional school police on site. Called the school and received no information. Looked online, found a news article dated a half hour earlier. A youth had posted on social media over the three day weekend, that someone had plans to shoot up the school that Tuesday. We as parents received this call Tuesday afternoon around lunch time. I immediately picked up my 18 yr old son from school and refused to send him the following day. Call me paranoid, that’s OK.
I have three in school, from elementary to high school, and twins entering school next year. I take a convoluted route all the time to drive by all my kid’s schools. I also type in my kid’s school’s names in the online search everyday just to “check”. Is there anything I can do? Nope, not really. But, I think this is a real fear of all parents and doesn’t make you, or I, or anyone else crazy.
DEPUTY KEITH…. Thank you, thank you, thank you for every thing you do to keep those little ones safe!! For you and all the other ones including teachers, who keep our children safe while in your care, we as parents cannot thank you enough!
I’m a 68 yr old Grandmommy and retired CEO. I have 3 children and 6 gc ages 3 to 25. I have run the gamut of fears for these precious souls and I understand completely your fears and share them. What I have to say is…:you HAVE to fight the fear. Yes, be as candid and informative with your children as possible and have a communication plan in place but don’t allow yourself to become so fearful and anxiety ridden that you damage your young ones and turn them in to cautious, nervous, timid adults. It’s hard. But there is a time when you’re young to be as free as possible from life’s realities and kids pick up on the stress anyway. Check up all you want but try as best you can to let the kids just be.
Have a martini. Sing and dance. And especially laugh with them. The worry can easily escalate and it rarely does a bit of good anyway.
Now, if I want to follow my grandchildren along the route when they they walk home…I just make sure they never see me!
I was not this crazy mom when my son (who is almost 20) was little. The worst thing that happened was 9/11 and he was almost 5. It’s a whole other story with my surprise baby (almost 4 now). I’ve turned into “paranoid mom” – no one could watch her or take care of her except me, and maybe grandma. It was so hard to let my now-husband take over kid duties. I hate the world she is going to grow up in. I cried when I read this post – thank you for sharing.
Reading this made me cry. As parents, we can imagine that happening to our kids, especially in this gun culture we have created. We live about 20-30 minutes from Newtown. Someone in my family texted to see if it was the school my kids were at, and I hadn’t even heard the news yet. Talk about panic setting in until I found out it wasn’t. My heart didn’t hurt any less because there were parents and family members who did find out it was their school, and that they had lost loved ones.
We hold our kids closer and make sure they know we love them because we never know what will happen. We also work on making the world a better place. It was a painful awakening to what is going on in America on a daily basis. No parent should be afraid of that happening, and no parent should have to go through that grief.
thank you for writing about the 26 we lost that day. It woke me up to the reality of gun violence in our nation. We lose almost 33,000 a year. Lose is the wrong word. They are killed. People in the right place and the right time, killed. Playdates reduced to a lump of bone and blood because a grownup was negligent and a child was able to find the weapon. We can be a better country. Join a local gun violence prevention group. Fight for Universal Background Checks on ALL gun sales. Lock up your own weapons. Do something.
Reading this just made me tear up! You are not crazy! You know what gives me nightmares and crazy thoughts; thinking about crazy pedophiles learking around! That literally gives me nightmares!
I remember that week so well. On Tuesday, a gunman took over a local mall, wounding many and killing two people. Not only was it heartbreaking, it was frightening because it was so close to home; my oldest son used to meet a girl friend there. And then on Friday came Newtown … it pushed me over the edge. All of those little faces, the unimaginable pain those parents must be in … the stories that came out about the teachers. Never in my life did I imagine I would need to talk with my kids about what to do if someone is shooting a gun in their schools, but I did — and continue to do so. I questioned the unreadable signature just above mine in the school sign-in log: did the office staff know who this person was and why they were there? It WAS my business because my child was in that school! So you do whatever you need to do to feel as comfortable as you can with where your children are, who they are with, and what they’re doing. YOU are their parent, it’s a scary world out there, and better safe than sorry.
You’re not alone. When almost 13 was a newborn a young little boy, who lived close by died from measles, all these years later I still think of that young boy. Then there’s Dunblane. 30 years ago a maniac went into a primary school (5years to 11 years, then they go to secondary school) in the small community of Dunblane and killed 18 people, mostly children. The ONLY good think that came out of this massacre is our gun laws changed. No guns allowed, and security was tightened in all Schools. Nobody can get into any school without being let in. Period.
There have been a few murders in schools/colleges in the US and each time my heart hurts for the parents. But Newtown was different Dear God, watching the news, seeing the parents…..here in the UK our hearts shattered for every single parent. It was Dunblane all over again. There are things you remember all your life, Dunblane and Newtown are 2 of those things.
Thanks for this one. Seriously. You nailed it.
My kinder told us at dinner one night about a drill. I asked a couple questions, “did you line up and file outside?” No. Oh, I think, well we’re in CA so, “Did you get under the desk or stand in a doorway?” “No, we hid in a closet.”
I had to leave the table, I lost my s**t right there. But I can’t let her see that, because then I have to explain why, and I don’t know how.
Two weeks later, there was another drill, but it wasn’t a drill. My boss’ daughter (8th grader) is at the same school, she texted her mom from a closet to tell her they were on lockdown. That was the longest 5 minutes of my life, I swear, until I heard it was lifted. Then I lost my s**t again, natch.
You are not crazy. Not even a little. Thank you for making me feel better, at least I know there’s another mom out there who can’t get these things out of her mind. Solidarity.
Newton happened 3 days before my son was born. I remember sitting on the couch 41 weeks pregnant watching President Obama cry over this horrible tragedy. I will never forget that day or the faces of the little angels who lost their lives. On the first anniversary I felt guilty that I was about to celebrate my sons first birthday, while their parents were would be mourning the loss of their children.
I’m a mom and a teacher, and not a bit of what you said was crazy. When I began holding my kids hands before they left the car in drop off line was because of this. I have ugly mornings, too, but they hold my hand and we say I love you before they open that door.
I am a first grade teacher and a mother of three. Every single day when I pull into my school parking lot, Newtown haunts me. I was sitting in a meeting with the fire chief and the police chief just last week where the main focus was on what we (the staff) are to do in an active shooter situation. We were looking at maps with labels like “mass casualty point” and “emergency rendezvous point” and it literally breaks my heart that the possibility of a tragedy like Newtown happening in my community is REAL. It’s a reality everywhere. And so as I sat in that meeting trying desperately to keep my composure, my mind was spinning. My job is to teach sweet, beautiful children to read, write, do math, to be kind to one another and to be confident in themselves. My job is to zip up jackets, wipe noses, tie shoes, put band aids on fingers and to provide a loving, safe, fun and happy environment that my students can always, always depend on. And my job is to guard them with my life. MY LIFE. And just as I would lay down my life for my own three young children, I would absolutely do the same for every single one of my 18 students. In a heartbeat. Because I love them with my entire soul. And I’m sure that every other teacher out there feels the same. So by all means, keep driving by your children’s school. Make sure to say “I love you” no matter what was happening in the car a few minutes before. But remember that your kids are loved by many in their school, and all the teachers have the same fears as you, but we are prepared to do whatever it takes to make sure your kids come home safely every single day. Because we love them too.
My daughter was the same age as those precious innocent kids and she still doesn’t know the full extent. My mind still cannot wrap around the idea that 6 yr olds were doing what their parents said to do, “Go to school.” And they were killed. When my daughter told me they did a “DoctorBrown” drill and had to hide in the closet and be extremely quiet I wanted to homeschool. My daughter makes me crazy but we part ways with I love you even if I want to sell her for 2 handfuls of magic beans. I can’t wait to read this book.
You are most definitely not alone in this. I cried all the time back when that first happened. I was terrified because my daughter had just started kindergarten and her classroom was in the same layout as theirs. It have become the crazy mom in this, but I will never apologize for loving my children that much. It is a sad world we live in where practicing lockdown drills is the norm. I am sure you did justice to this subject. You are awesome!
I read this chapter a few days ago. Some things happen in our world we can’t understand and this is one of those moments. Newtown ripped this new mom (my baby was just a itty bitty baby) and teacher apart. It’s the only chapter I haven’t laughed over… ?
Thank you so much for this post. Just like you, I am haunted by what happened at Newtown. But I want to remind you and your readers that it’s not enough to be sad about it. Gun violence kills about 90 people a day in the United States, including 8 kids and teens – that’s upwards 30,000 people a year. It’s not just the mass shootings that are on the 24-hour news channels; it’s a day-to-day epidemic that is destroying families and neighborhoods throughout our country. Other countries don’t have this problem, and we can do something about it, especially in an election year.
People think that nothing has changed since Newtown, but that’s not true. A grassroots group called Moms Demand Action was founded the day after that unthinkable tragedy, and we’ve grown to more than 3 million members. We’re committed to finding common-sense solutions to end gun violence, like background checks on all gun sales. We’ve had big victories against the gun lobby throughout the country, and we are in it for the long haul. Please consider joining http://www.momsdemandaction.org to learn more about ways to get involved in this issue.
And for those of you in the NY area: please join us as we have our 4th Annual March Across the Brooklyn Bridge and Rally for Gun Sense! Here are the details – click to RSVP: http://act.everytown.org/signup/Brooklyn-Bridge-March-2016/?source=fbns_share&utm_source=fb_n_&utm_medium=_s&utm_campaign=share
These are the stories that make me seriously consider homeschooling…. 🙁
My sweet child was born during the Atlanta Child Murders in 1980. I wonder if I would have been a “smother mother” anyway….
@Jess: THANK YOU. I’m not a mom, but your post made me tear up. My sister-in-law is also a teacher of young children. It just breaks my heart that this type of training is even needed. I can’t imagine what her husband and their twin one-year-olds would do without her if something awful should happen.
@Karen Alpert: I do not think you’re the least bit crazy. I think this way all the time about crazy people with guns and explosives, and I have no kids. It’s part of the reason I’ve been hesitant to start a family. Does that make me crazy? I don’t know. Frankly, freaking out about this sh*t is part of what makes all of you women and men here good parents. I salute you all. Truly.
You are so normal I…and also it’s not my place to say this and we have awful horrible things happening in Europe too but when I see how many amazing women are here worrying about this I truly believe that you mums have the power to demand that the manufacturers stop putting guns in the hands of kids and the mentally disturbed. We have enough issues in the world with terrorism without arming the sick. I’m really really sorry if this upsets anyone but as a teacher who has lost children to illness I cannot imagine losing a whole class.