The children of Sandy Hook

“The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think.” Edwin Schlossberg

I deliberately did not follow this story, except in a very teeny way. It was just too painful. I taught school for 44 years and realized that  during  any one of those days, it could have been my students or my own children, under the gun.  Would I have laid down my life to protect my kinders? No doubt. None. Absolutely. Without a thought because for the hours they were entrusted to me? They were mine, not born of my body but in my heart.

I was undecided as far as a career until I was five. Then I went to kindergarten and thought to myself “THIS is exactly what I want to do!  I can dress up every day and wear cute shoes and boss people around and best of all, be in charge of the glitter AND the glue.” So I spent my entire schooling years writing down things I would NEVER ever do, things I liked, things I thought were boring and ideas I had that would make school less painful.

I made sure I said every single child’s name five times every day….in a good way. I never ever let that terrible picking teams thing go on….I picked the teams in crazy random ways so no one had to be the last one chosen or worse, fought over, as I was. (“”You take her”. “NO! You take her! I took her last time!”) I only had one leader every day and that kid got to do EVERYTHING! I had a chart so they could figure out which day they would be the leader and it was a very big deal. I did my best to make sure that the kids who struggled got as much good time as the ones who breezed thru school. I gave out weekly certificates verifying that Randy was the best sitter this week or that Rodney was the best pencil sharpener. I made little books and every day, they would write down something good or bad or interesting and I would reply. For some children, there was nothing good in their lives, but there was plenty of interesting things they could write about. I had a box of locks on a chain and a big keychain of keys. The daily leader could, if he or she so chose, spent a great deal of their day unlocking all those locks. I had several big stumps and real hammers, real screwdrivers and real nails and real screws. The leader could spend the day doing that, too, if that were something that looked like fun.

I did the best I could to give the children entrusted to me a good day to look back on. On their leader day, we wrote a book about good things about Rodney or Tamisha or Joe. “Tamisha colors good.” “Joe is a good sharer.” “Rodney helped me one time when I fell down.”

In my heart of hearts, I think that is the kind of school life the children in Sandy Hook had. I think they knew that their teachers were totally devoted and totally with them on that terrible day. And I want to think that they felt so safe that even though they were scared, they were not terrified. They were not alone. When I finally read the People magazine issue that told about each child, I honestly thought that my heart would break. How could those parents go on? How could those teachers continue? And how could those gentle spirits who were spared manage to live and not limp through the rest of their lives?

I don’t know. I have no answers, except that I would have shielded my children with my body. I would have kept them safe and close and known their names. And I want to believe that when they were taken, they were taken in an instant.

When I was a little girl, my sister was killed. It took us forever to recover….and really, we never did. She was present in all of my growing up years. When I started teaching school, I would go to the cemetery and leave her the flowers that my children had given me. I felt as if I needed to live two lives just so she wouldn’t have missed a single thing. The only trouble I had was when I had my own children. I worried about them until they were five. I was sure that something would happen to them because I was just too very happy being a mother and a teacher.

Marnie has been gone now for fifty six years. I think I am the only living person who remembers her on the entire Earth. My parents are both gone and my younger sister was born after Marnie’s death. There are so many wonderful things she missed….her first day at school, learning how to jump rope, learning about American History. Learning how to cook, Falling in love. Having children. She missed all of that. But she also missed mean girls and having her heart broken. She didn’t have to look at the way she inadvertently hurt someone. She never had to go through a divorce. She never had to stand at the graveside of her parents.

I miss her every day.

The children of Sandy Hook will miss their friends. They will wonder their whole life long “Why me?” Parents will wonder the same thing for years.And then one day, what they will feel is grace. Grace that they had them as long as they did. Grace that they did the best they could. Grace that their little lives were full of childlike things, like T-ball and piano lessons and running in the sun with their dogs. The ache will one day be replaced with the joyful, childlike things they did, like going under a bridge and throwing up their arms and shouting “Duck a head!” or eating waddymelon at a roadside fruit stand. Or simply standing in the yard, watching the sunset. I think the reason there are so many millions of minutes in our children’s lives are so we have so many wonderful times to remember, when our hearts finally allow us to.

That day will be engraved on their hearts for the rest of their lives. I hope that the words are kind ones and not ugly scribbles, because their friends would want them to walk in joy and not in fear. I hope the words engraved on their parents hearts can one day be read with a wry smile instead of tears.

We do the very best we can for the precious cargo we are entrusted with. We can”t save every one but we can at the very least know their names.  I am so very lucky that I have been able to stay in touch with many of my students and I have to say, I am always so happy to hear from them. One day, I was walking down an alley at a super max prison I was teaching at and I heard a guy holler “Miss B? Miss B! It’s me! Jose! I can read and I gots a job!” I was as happy to hear his voice and see his little five year old face (they never change, not really)…shoot, I was glad he was alive. He’d learned to read well enough to get a job and that made me as happy as my student who is a teacher in San Francisco and my student who is a pediatric oncologist (I taught her to knit and she keeps impossibly tiny needles in her pocket, making impossibly intricate handbags with tiny little beads).  IN the 44 years I taught, I would bet that my students run the gamut of careers and countries. Doctors, lawyers, mothers, hair dressers, dancers…..I rejoice with my former students because they are alive and living real lives and I think to myself  that this was exactly the life I envisioned for myself that first day in kindergarten.

And I’m pretty sure that Marnie was taken in an instant and that she runs with the dogs in the back yard, waiting for me.

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3 thoughts on “The children of Sandy Hook

  1. That just rips arteries out of my heart. I also meet my former students – who were barely struggling to stay in college with their PELL grants and little part time jobs. They come up and tell me about their jobs as surveyors and nurses and surgical techs and TEACHERS! Like you, I KNOW that I would be protective too. And, unfortunately, we DO get episodes on this campus – mostly people NOT taking the medicine they should.

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