Tonawanda News

December 20, 2012

Hugging your kids is the only answer

The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — My phone rang about 2 p.m. or so on Friday afternoon. I reached over to pick it up without even glancing at the caller ID, wrapped up in the news of the day and the usual tasks of the average Friday.

A chipper little-boy voice chirped in my ear: “Hi, Mommy! I love you!”

I am not ashamed to tell you that I lost it. I absolutely lost it. I dissolved into tears, clutching that telephone receiver, trying to reassure the confused 4-year-old on the other end of the line that really, really, Mommy was OK, everything was fine, how was school today, honey?

Everything wasn’t fine, of course. My son didn’t know that, though. His TV viewing consists of the Disney Channel, if anything, and pre-K schoolyard gossip doesn’t really revolve around the latest from CNN. He had no idea whatsoever what had happened earlier that day in Newtown, Conn., or that all that I could think of when hearing his voice was that so many families would never hear their children’s voices again.

I must have been at least a little convincing, because he eventually said goodbye, wandering off to play with his trains or look at books or color or whatever it is 4-year-old boys do in the hours after pre-K lets out. I told my husband to give him a big hug for me ... and another to the 8-year-old when he climbed off his bus in a few hours. He soberly agreed. 

I wasn’t going to write a column about Newtown, Conn. What more is there to say? What happened there on Friday is so difficult to comprehend, for the average person to wrap their brain around, that all you can really do is share bits and pieces like that and hope that other people understand.

The last time I broke down in tears in a newsroom, it was Sept. 11, 2001. 

That day was appalling, world-changing, but it was almost surreal. My overactive imagination is all-too-willing to provide me with the details of the Sandy Hook massacre. I’ve been in too many elementary school classrooms, you see. I can picture ... things I don’t want to picture. 

I know how excited my two little hooligans are for Christmas day. I imagine the kids in Sandy Hook Elementary were just as excited. 

I have to go home tonight and wrap Christmas presents for those two little boys. How many presents are already wrapped for kids who will never open them? There are hundreds of those kinds of questions. 

And no good answers.

The rhetoric started flying pretty quickly after the full horror of what happened Friday began to come out. Gun control. God in schools. The role of the media. I’m a little ashamed to admit I waded into the fray myself, words flying in anger, before making myself back away and acknowledging that we’re all just trying to deal with this in our own way. I may not agree with what others believe would make a difference, but to each their own.

No one wants another Sandy Hook.

I made myself read a list of the victims today, complete with photos. It seemed like the least I could do, to remember them. I can’t help but hold my boys’ school pictures up in my mind’s eye and shudder a little. It was hard sending them off to school this week. 

Charlotte Bacon, 6, loved animals and zoo. Daniel Barden, 7, played the drums. In a photo, he’s missing his two front teeth, just like my 8-year-old. Olivia Engel, 6, was going to make a gingerbread house that day. Josephine Gay, 7, loved purple. 

And on. And on. And on.

I think I understand. All this rhetoric ... it’s just a way to grasp for answers. To say, “If we had done this ...” or “It’s because of that ...”

I don’t think it’s that easy.

In the end, I have no answers, either. Just ... hug your kids. Say a prayer for Sandy Hook. And don’t let it drive you apart.

Jill Keppeler is a writer for the Tonawanda News. She can be reached at