Monday, December 14, 2015

December 14th. Unspeakable still.

This year, I am foregoing my usual birthday blog for Noah, posting it the day after his actual birthday, and acknowledging what this day actually means to me and to so many people.

I have a little boy, now one day into his seventh year of life. He is in first grade. He is still innocent in many ways, but he has great intuition about people and knows to never trust the weather in New England. He loves his school and his friends and gym class and art class and Bumpy, his classroom tortoise. He pays such close attention to his teacher that when he tells me about a lesson he learned in class, he unknowingly mimics her mannerisms, her expressions, the cadence of her speech. He worries mostly about his sister Grace knocking down his castles and Lego structures, and the number of sentences he needs to write in his homework answers to make them complete, and getting to school in enough time to play a little with his friends before school starts. He is a passionate little guy, though he's recently he's been able to channel his energy into words and drawings and stories he tells rather than tearful frustrations.

I will always tell the story of Noah's wide eyes, the second he was born. Little globes, unblinking, enveloping, his eyes so earnest to see as much as infancy would allow, as curious a 5 minute old as one could ever imagine. He matched, quite beautifully, the impression the doctor had given me of him days before his birth in a routine appointment. While checking my dilation and effacement, she had let out a yelp. "He just moved his head around when he felt my hand! I've not had that happen before... like he was saying, 'Hey, who's there? Who is that up there?" She was startled, laughing, and I was proud. We all have our sacred memories, our stories we tell with nostalgia or delight and often both, and fortunately, there is no person who ever has the power to remove those memories, framed firmly in time. We have now made six years and one day or memories with Noah, and I cannot believe how damn lucky we are to have him.

Three years ago today, on December 14, 2012, twenty first graders and six educators went to school in Sandy Hook, CT and we all know what happened after that. There was a Noah in one of the classrooms. Noah Pozner - he was 6, described as having a huge heart and being so much fun and full of spirit. There was a Grace too. And a Charlotte. And then there was Jack, Olivia, Dylan, Avielle, Jesse, Catherine, Jessica, James, Caroline, Josephine, Benjamin, Chase, Ana, Daniel, Emilie, Madeleine, and Allison. I think about these kids every single day. Every day. Most of these kids were 6 years old, a few had turned 7. I drop my little boy off every morning and I watch him walk away and into that school and I tell myself he is okay, he will be safe, that this tiny risk is a better choice than wrapping a bullet proof bubble around him, allowing fear to keep him from exploring.

Noah had just turned four when Sandy Hook took place. He turned four on Thursday and the next day Sandy Hook happened and the day after that was a Saturday, the day his birthday party was scheduled. Like 9-11, I imagine we all remember where we were when we heard. I was on the way to get treats for his party, with him in the back seat. As I reacted in terrified silence, he peeled his ears to the radio, gathering something terrible had happened, my discerning boy. I turned off the radio, but not in time, and, heartache stuffed into my stomach, I continued on the day, blank and detached and nauseous as hell. I debated and debated over whether to have that party or not. I was destroyed. We were all destroyed. To cancel the party, though, that felt selfish, and though neither choice felt right, we kept the birthday plans and all of us grown-ups acted as if life was as normal on this day as it was two days before.

Unspeakable. December 14, 2012 (written three years ago)

Yesterday Noah made it to an age that most of those first graders never got to see. I am so damn grateful and somewhat guilty and actually highly paranoid that I am jinxing myself because who the hell knows what can happen on any given normal day anymore? And I am sorry to talk about this, to dredge up the horrifying past; I understand the person who closes this post down without reading another word. But turning it off won't make it go away, won't somehow erase that it happened and that it happens... at an alarming rate, pretty much weekly now, which makes it harder and harder to ignore and to pretend between shootings that everything is fine. Over 1000 mass shootings since Sandy Hook in the United States. Seriously?! I was naive then to think that would somehow shake some sense into Congress. Instead, mass shootings now seem frighteningly commonplace. I do not want to go on a rant about political stagnancy and gun control. I know who my readers are. We've all read it and heard it and thought a great deal about it and frankly it would be absurd for me to me to think I'm making some sort of point that hasn't been made a million times already.

(But since I have your attention (possibly): wouldn't it be something if we could omit the names of the shooters from the media because I think some desperate people will do this sort of thing for their moment. ("This is the only time I'll ever be in the news. I'm so insignificant," read an apparent post by the would-be Oregon gunman, October 1, 2015). I wish we poured way more money and time and effort into mental health so we could intervene early for the torn apart people so shrouded in shame and pain that these acts somehow become their horrific final voice. Do not confuse these words with sympathy. I have none. But our inaction along the way is not doing anybody any good.)

My daughter Grace, now 4, the age Noah turned three years ago, attends the same preschool that Noah did when he was 4. This year, our major fundraising efforts are going towards a giant set of security doors that will separate our school from the rest of the building (the church) where our little school resides. We're right in the middle of a close-knit village community, a tiny preschool in a congregational church, and installing a set of security doors to keep the potential bad guys out seems perfectly reasonable and truly feels like the best thing we can do with our money right now.

What is this all about? Why so somberly steal my son's birthday blog thunder to bring our attention back to truly one of the saddest days in our nation's history? Because how can I not? Honestly, seriously, how the hell can I not? It's in the shadows of our joys now, this day, where it left us, the little we have done about it, the many victims who came before and have come since. Here is the day that welcomes my little boy into his next year of life every single year. Every year since this day three years ago, I've said to myself, "Thank you, my God, I still have my boy" and I try so damn hard to appreciate each precious or aggravating or exhausting moment for the enormity of what it is. I feel guilty and afraid and paralyzed and I feel more than anything like we owe it to those left behind to get our shit together and finally, finally, do something about it.

Guns by the numbers

MoveOn.org petition for action