To Connecticut, From the Mother of a Six Year-Old

December 14th, 2012.

It felt like the whole world grieved as news spread that 20 beautiful children in Newtown, Connecticut were killed in their school. Just days earlier, in my state of Oregon, another shooting happened at Clackamas Town Center mall. One of my friends was there with her children just an hour before the shooting occurred; another had planned to go to the mall, but something changed her mind.

Moments. Decisions. Locations.

The night of the Clackamas shooting, I gathered for a Christmas cookie exchange with my Bible Study girls (all mothers of small children), and we talked about the shooting, in our state, in a mall we've all been with our families, and someone said, "Is it safe to take my kids to a movie? Is it safe to take them to the mall?" 

Less than 72 hours later, her words rang in my mind as I tried to process the horror that is the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. 

Is it safe to take my kids to school?

Events like these capture our attention. We are riveted to news, whether it be television, online, in print, or what is being shared on social media sites.

Shortly after I heard the initial reports of what happened in Newtown, I posted this on my personal Facebook page:
My Kindergartener is putting on a one-woman concert and my third grader is drawing blueprints. Meanwhile hearts are breaking for all the Kindergarteners and third graders and other elementary children in Connecticut whose unique gifts to the world have been snuffed out. Tears flow for their mothers and their fathers, their siblings, their community and for the world. Tears flow out of my deep gratitude for the girls safe in my home today who make messes and sing loudly and fight with each other and snuggle me and their daddy. I'm so sorry, Connecticut.
I didn't know yet how many children had been killed, what grades they were in or their ages. I didn't even know yet that Sandy Hook was a school for kids in K-4th grade.

That night I tucked my kids in, taking my {sweet, precious} time, and posted this afterward:
Snuggled with Natalie at bedtime in her little room lit by nightlight, with her soothing music playing. Couldn't stop kissing her soft cheek. Gave her 20 extra kisses, one for each child about her age who didn't come home from school today. Couldn't stop there. She hugged and kissed me back, with her wet hair from the bath smelling like Dora strawberry shampoo. We prayed for the families in Connecticut. Left her room with tears spilling down my face. A classroom of Kindergarteners destroyed this morning.... and mine safe tonight. So broken for their mamas who couldn't tuck them in tonight.
Later that night, the helplessness of the situation struck me.
Natalie asked me, "Did any of my friends die today?" and while the answer is no, we are part of the human family, and the bulk of the children killed were Kindergarteners, just like her. I wonder who they would have grown to be. I am struggling because this can't keep happening, and yet I am certain that it will, while our nation continues to argue over what to do or not to do. We can't live in fear, but what kind of a world are we raising our kids in, that churches, malls, movie theatres, soccer fields, coffee shops and schools aren't safe places? I believe in life after death. I believe more people are good than bad. But on days like today, there are a lot of questions, and my inability to always protect my girls is glaring.
I woke the next morning in a lot of pain. I felt emotional: overwhelming gratitude for life and the gift of more time with my family; overwhelming sadness for the state of my country. We dressed up and curled hair and went to church. I craved the ages, grades, and the names of the children killed. Sometime that afternoon a list was released. I swallowed around a lump in my throat as I silently read the names and ages -- 20 children: 16 six year-olds, 4 seven year-olds.

I cried as I calculated that TWELVE of the children who died were six year-old little girls like my daughter.

I read their names, and I thought constantly of their parents. I loved my girls better and with more intention; more intensity. I felt guilt that twelve mothers lost their six year-old daughters, while mine is here with me, sparkling and smiling, as only Natalie can.

A week later I created an art journaling tribute to the 20 children. It's a way to remember them, to process what happened, and it's my way of trying to reach out to their parents to say I'm so, so sorry.

Going forward, this tragedy will stick with me like 9/11.

As I grappled with how much caring is too much, how much processing is right and how much is bordering on obsession, I settled on the thought that one thing our country can use is people who deeply care about others. People who are compassionate. If lingering on this for a while makes me "too sensitive," I have just this to say: I'd rather be too sensitive than insensitive.

Remembering and grieving with you, Newtown parents.

For additional reading, here are two posts on the Newtown shooting that resonated with me:

In Connecticut, In My Heart by Joseph Long at Very Long Chronicles
Restoration by Kelle Hampton at Enjoying the Small Things


  1. I am very moved by how you have taken trauma and grief and processed it by making art. It's something I am just beginning to learn how to do, but I am greatly inspired by your example. It gives me courange to try myself to express some of the things I haven't been able to put into words. There are too many things lately that I haven't been able to put into words, so it comes at the right time.

    My favorite passage in this post was near the end: "I settled on the thought that one thing our country can use is people who deeply care about others. People who are compassionate. If lingering on this for a while makes me "too sensitive", I have just this to say: I'd rather be too sensitive than insensitive." I agree 100%.

    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and process! You make a difference for me, every day! Love you!

  2. Hi Jennifer, I am an artist, I lost my son Austin at Christmas 2011 of which I am devastated. My mother has AS and has done for as long as I can remember. She gets bouts of Eyeritis and weirdly strawberries really agravate it. How do you cope with mananging AS? are there things you have found to make it worse?. Gerat blog.Sally www.hebenefitofbirdsong.blogspot.com

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  7. Hi Sally,

    I'm so very sorry about the loss of your son Austin.

    I find that overscheduling myself makes my AS worse. I do best with a simple schedule. Heat helps too (hot showers, my heating pad) and resting.

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