There are only two towns separating my hometown on Newtown. Two. Only about 20 minutes.Twenty.
Friday was a normal day. Big Girl off to school; twins running around. I was trying to clean up my house, get my bedroom and bathroom back in order after our recent little remodel. Tackle mountains of laundry. I was due to be the "Mystery Reader" in Big Girl's class at 12:30 p.m. so I was trying to do as much as possible before the little ones needed to be dropped at my parents' house. The babies were watching Nick Jr. and "Sesame Street."
Nearing noon, I decided to stop at McDonald's for lunch for the twins to eat at my parents' house. I went through the drive-thru, ordered, and my phone rang. It was our schools' alert message system, informing me that "due to the shooting at a school in Newtown," the towns' schools were now on "lockdown/lock-in" with a policeman stationed outside.
My first thought was OK, safety measures; my second thought was how do I get in? I called the office and asked "Do I come? Am I allowed in?" Yes. And yes. I just need to identify myself and show ID and the teacher had notified the office that I would be coming.
The news of the shooting, at that point, did not send off warning bells in my head. I thought it might be a domestic dispute, like a estranged husband going after a wife; or something involving older kids at a high school. That is not to belittle either of those possibilities, but as I drove to my parents, I just never thought that it could be this. This bad. Kids this young. This many. This gruesome. This truly close to home.
At my parents' house, the TV was on. The news reported it was bad. Possibly the worst. Ever. No numbers yet. An elementary school. Little kids. Babies.
I headed to my daughter's school and hit the button on the door. A police SUV was sitting in the lot. On any normal day, a buzzer would sound and the door would unlock. Today, a voice: "Who is it?" I answered and the door unlocked. The office staff were standing, talking on phones, reassuring parents as phones were ringing. Young teachers were frantic. "You send your kids to school and this happens? I got to work and I need to fear for my life?" one young teacher says to me, walking by with her lunch.
Faces everywhere are tense.
I walk down to my daughter's class, and they are waiting for me. I read them a story, a Laura Ingalls Wilder one, of course, making them laugh about how Christmas in the pioneer days seems laughably simple right now. "A penny in the toe of the stocking! A whole penny!" Wilder writes, and I read the line with a little humor -- A WHOLE PENNY!! The class laughs. I am grateful. The kids, now, seem fine. My phone is ringing in my pocket. I ignore it. I finish, get up to leave, and my daughter hugs me -- hard. Does she know? Does she know how bad it is?
In the hallway, I listen to my voice mail. It's the school alert, again. Lockdown will be lifted but police will remain outside of the school. Faces, everywhere, are still tense. My phone's beeping, beeping, messages. I walk out the school doors. I wave to the policeman, a thankful wave.
By the time I am back at my parents' house, numbers are released. My phone is beeping. I check my messages. Is everything OK? Friends around the country are sending Facebook messages. Some are just hearing "school shooting" and "Connecticut" and of course, think of me, and others. Are we OK?
Yes, we are OK. But not completely. Who can be right now?
I head home with the twins. Try to continue chores, but I'm totally distracted by the television. The twins obliviously play, and Buddy Twin eventually naps on the couch. They are too young, so young, too young to know anything other than Mommy is upset. I numbly watch continuous live coverage with the Christmas tree lit up two feet away from the television. It seems to mock the news. Stupid Christmas. Why now?
At 3:25, the bus pulls up. Big Girl comes in the house. "Mom, we had lockdown today," she says, as if lockdown is just a natural activity. (Unfortunately, it sometimes is. They practice hiding in corners now. Isn't that just absolutely sad to hear?)
I ask her if she knows why. She says a classmate saw something in the nurses' office and "something like two bad criminals got out a few towns away and killed somebody." Umm, no.
No, I tell her. It's actually much worse than that. She is 10. If I do not tell her now, she will hear somewhere else. Better to face the truth immediately. I tell her a crazy man got into a school and shot many people. Yes, kids. Yes, teachers. I tell her that this is not a normal thing; it is very rare; it is not something to worry about happening to her. It is why we practice safety drills. It is why you have lockdown.
I hug her tight. And then I sob. I don't want to scare her but I am sad because I know she will remember this day and look back on it like I remember Sept. 11. This reminds me very much of Sept. 11. I tell her this is a very, very sad event. Does she have questions? "Do we know any of the people who died?" she asks. I don't think so, I tell her. We may know people who know them, however. And that was very true.
We sit down and watch President Obama speak. Then the day continues on.
Over the course of the night, news emerges. Possible victims, connections to many friends on Facebook.
Many friends who are teachers worked under the principal at other schools. The principal's daughter lives in my town and the principal's grandchildren are in our schools. A friend works with a parent who lost a child. Another friend tells a tale of a little girl she knows who lost her best friend. Another friend lives next door to the mother of an adult victim. Stories of heroism emerge.
It's all so surreal as notable newspeople are just minutes from my home, broadcasting live on television and Twitter and online. My former news colleagues from across the country are assigned stories to cover this tragedy.
A prayer vigil is planned in my hometown.
My husband is sick; stomach bug or food poisoning or something. I leave him to rest in the bedroom and bring my pillow to the couch. I can't sleep. I doze in and out; CNN in the background. In the middle of the night, I check my phone. Messages. Facebook messages. I fall asleep in the armchair.
The sun rises. It is my twins' birthday. They are 3.
I should be happy, but I am sad. I fetch the newspaper and make a cup of coffee and sit down to read. The little ones are up. My husband is up, but not feeling great. The babies open their presents and are happy and smiling. I am happy to have them. Happy to have my Big Girl too.
We were supposed to go to an aquarium today, but my husband is too sick, and it should not matter because I am capable of going on my own. But I am not in the mood nor moving fast enough this morning to leave in time to drive the 75 minutes to get there for the day. I change plans. Lunch out, at Friendly's, every kids favorite place, with crayons and comfort food and ice cream. I ask my mom to go. The twins are very active so it is hard to have an outing where they have to sit still. After lunch we head to Walmart and I am a puddle of tears in the car. I am mad at me for being so mad at them for their fidgetyness at the restaurant, for wanting this one thing to be happy and nice and birthday-like when the world feels so uncelebratory at the moment. I am frustrated and tired and mentally exhausted and Walmart is not helping matters by being so busy and remodeled where I can't find anything.
We head back home to my parents' house and visit with my father. I decide to run to the local pharmacy to get a flu shot. I fill out the paperwork and wait for the tech in the waiting area. I check my phone. A former colleague's daughter is among the dead. She was a substitute teacher at the school.
I pick up the kids and we head home. My husband is feeling better. We decide to go see Christmas lights as soon as it gets dark. I feed the children something to eat, then put on their pajamas and we drive around to see lights set to music at two locations. Buddy Twin falls asleep in the car. I carry him up to his bed. Bunny Twin plays with my husband and Big Girl.
I decide to go to the prayer vigil.
It is cold. There are hundreds of people. Our town green is overflowing with those hurting for our neighbors two towns away. There is crying. There are prayers. There is song. There are candle lights, but they ran out of candles. Every clergyman and pastor and priest in town speaks. We ache. Sadness on a cold winter's night. Voices ring out: Let there be peace on earth.
Home again. I'm on the computer, writing this. But my personal story really doesn't matter when parents are mourning tiny children, days before Christmas, just a few miles away. And other children are robbed of their childhood for what they witnessed.
I don't know if I will be back to this blog before Christmas. I hope your holidays are happy. That you share time with loved ones and cherish every moment. This next week, I will be busy with a very heavy heart. Keep Connecticut in your prayers.