After Newtown: Holding Them Close
Friday was a minimum day at my daughter’s school, as she wrapped a week of finals before the annual holiday break. I usually bitch and moan about having to quit work at 12:00 to drive to school and get her, but not this time. By then, I knew what had happened in Newtown, and I could not wait to see my kid and hold her close — which has been my inclination whenever the nation has been touched by tragedy.
It is what I did after Columbine, when she was just a toddler, and what I did in 1999, when white supremacist Buford Furrow shot women and children at the Jewish Community Center a couple of miles from our home (after we got the hell out of the neighborhood while the police were conducting a manhunt). It was how I handled my shock and disbelief after the fall of the World Trade Center her second week of kindergarten. I hugged my daughter after each and every report I heard of a child who was abducted… or harmed… or killed. I held her close and I wondered if there was any way to ensure that she would always be safe.
I got the news of the massacre in Newtown the way I learn of all breaking events these days: from my Facebook and Twitter feeds. I had ceased working anyway by the time I needed to leave for school — but without the audio and visual cues of broadcast coverage, I had been able to stay somewhat detached from the horror. In the car, I heard the anguished voices of the people of Newtown… and the President’s speech, where he choked up talking about the babies who had been lost on Friday. And I started to lose it, too. I could not wait to hug my baby.
And then, school was out.
My daughter threw her backpack in the trunk of the car and slid into the passenger seat.
“Can I drive?” she asked.
Did I mention that she is 16 now and has her license?
I was not in the mood. I just wanted to get us home.
“The movie is at 5:00,” she said. I vaguely remembered telling her I had no problem with her seeing a movie after school with her friends. This was no longer true.
“I’m not sure about that now,” I told her. “Did you hear what happened today?”
She had, and she did not think that an event that happened at an elementary school 3,000 miles away had anything to do with her ability to go to the movies that night with her friends. She said it wasn’t fair.
My daughter’s study load doesn’t give her much time for a social life, so on the rare occasions when she wants to get out with some friends, I am all for it. But now, all I could think of was those families in Newtown, and the people who were terrorized at the mall in Oregon earlier that week — and the massacre in the Aurora movie theater just six months ago.
No, no, no, no, no.
“You’re right,” I said. “It’s not fair and it’s not logical. I just don’t want you going alone to a movie at a mall tonight. I don’t expect you to understand that now, but maybe some day when you have kids of your own, you’ll look back on this and get it.”
One thing was certain: she did not get it now. We argued a little more and drove the rest of the way in silence, and when we were home she went straight to her room and shut her door.
I did not get my hug.
A friend called me later that afternoon to talk of the horrible events of the day — and our kids. I asked her if she thought I was being unreasonable.
What I actually said was, “Am I crazy?”
“No, Donna. You’re not crazy. I absolutely would not let my kids to to a movie theater tonight! What if someone decides to pull another Batman? I bet the other kids’ parents feel the same way.”
Maybe. One of them is the child of two schoolteachers. I bet this hits even closer to home.
I felt better about my decision – but not about the world we live in, where a parent has to be afraid to let her kid go to a mall, a movie theater or even to school. The rational me knows that I cannot lock my daughter safely away for the rest of her life; I want her to be out in the world and to feel strong and unafraid. But no one is immune from random acts of violence, none of us is 100% safe. But at least, for this one night, we would all be together.
I knocked on her door and peeked in. She had fallen asleep.
By the time her dad got home, she was up and about and was no longer sulking about missing the movie. We had a nice dinner and a pleasant evening. And when it was time to go to bed, I asked her for a hug.
She leaned down and I held her tight.