I hadn't expected to bring my kids to school that day. I'd planned to send them off with the bus just as I had every Monday morning.
But we woke up late, and I wanted to make sure they had eaten breakfast ...
That's not true. I wanted to make sure I didn't spend the last few minutes of our time together -- the day after a long weekend of disbelief that a young man walked into a school and murdered 26 people, most of them children -- yelling at them to get ready lest they miss their ride.
There was ample time to wolf down a bowl of cereal. But making it through dressing and teeth brushing and packing backpacks and lunches would take a drill sergeant.
And I didn't have it in me.
We arrived at school on time.
My kids barely noticed all the police officers and school officials gathered in the main lobby as they scampered around their friendly custodian, who was giving high-fives as he directed foot traffic.
There may have been more adults than usual on this day, but they were all familiar faces.
I didn't hug my children as they ran to their classrooms. I didn't follow them and speak to their teachers. I know them well, and know my kids are in excellent hands. And my children never looked back as they scampered away.
They are fearless like that.
Instead, I found a familiar face. A former principal who was standing by the office – a woman so devoted to the school she had helmed that she has remained involved despite having to step down from her position as she battles lung cancer.
She assured me they would do their best, but they had no idea what they were facing. Who knew what? Who understood what? They would be there to comfort.
I hugged her and told her I appreciated the time she took trying to comfort me.
I wished it had been different, but I can't say I was surprised when my daughter, a fully-fledged third grader, came home that afternoon in tears with a single question:
“Why would someone do something like that?”
No one knows. There is no good answer. Meanness. Spite. Evil … are all words that came to mind. There is no rational explanation.
This is the worst thing that she's ever heard in her life. This is the moment when she realizes truly awful, frightening things happen to innocent people at the hands of other human beings.
I was a little younger than her when that moment visited me. It was the early '70s and my family was in D.C., traveling to see relatives. My sister and I sat as far apart from each other on the backseat as humanly possible, as the news on the car radio reported that a woman had murdered her children.
So many questions whirled around my head as my father drove through the rain-slicked city, and my mother looked out of the window straining to read street signs. Neither had registered the news. Neither had realized I had.
I watched my mother that whole trip as if she were an alien creature, wondering if she were capable …
But I never asked any questions. ...
Unlike my daughter, who, sitting on my lap on a rickety kitchen stool, wanted to know everything I'd left out that her friends at school had filled in.
“He killed his mom, too?”
“Did his mother really give him the guns?”
“I'm not sure that she gave them to him; he may have taken them without permission.”
“He killed children?”
“Yes, he did.”
She wanted to know everything. How many? How old? Did people survive? What did the teachers do to protect them? What were their names?
I answered as best as I could.
And then the question I was dreading …
“Has this happened before?”
“Yes. It has.”
“Why haven't we stopped it?”
“It's hard to explain.”
“You don't have to. I know it's because they don't want to get rid of guns.”
The thing is, our children believe we can make the world a better place even when we think it's a lost cause.
“What can I do?”
I was never so glad to have someone else's words than I was that moment:
“I want to read you something our president said:
'There’s only one thing we can be sure of, and that is the love that we have for our children, for our families, for each other. The warmth of a small child’s embrace, that is true.
'The memories we have of them, the joy that they bring, the wonder we see through their eyes, that fierce and boundless love we feel for them, a love that takes us out of ourselves and binds us to something larger, we know that’s what matters.
'We know we’re always doing right when we’re taking care of them, when we’re teaching them well, when we’re showing acts of kindness. We don’t go wrong when we do that'.”
With kindness and courage we will affect the change our children believe is possible.
I believe it, too.