Almost every day, Michelle is the one who picks Isabella up from school. Today, we made sure to do it together.
When Isabella spotted me coming through the door to the playground, she came running to me and jumped in my arms. She didn’t notice that I was clutching her more tightly than usual. She just squealed with delight and went running inside to gather her things.
While Michelle talked with the teachers, Izzy led me to her locker, showed me the Christmas tree she’d painted today, and shared the three Santa Claus drawings she had colored (“This one’s for me, this one’s for Mommy, this one’s for you!”). She brought me into her classroom, saying, “Daddy, let me show you something,” and proudly led me to another drawing she had colored that was now hanging on the wall as decoration. We sat in the “circle time” area and let her play teacher. A paper stocking for each child hung on a low wall, each displaying the stickers earned for attentiveness and good behavior. Isabella’s wide lead in the sticker count seemed to promise mastery of this daily ritual, and she did not disappoint. With pointer in hand, she led her Mother and me through the days of the week (in song, of course), the letter of the day (O is for octopus), and the weather report. Today, we learned, was sunny, but cold.
I imprinted every detail in my memory. Because I realized that these ordinary moments were gifts that the parents of 20 children in Connecticut had not been given.
Those families probably started the morning just like we did – with kids fighting to stay in bed, grousing about their clothes, and then brightening as they began searching for an elf, marking an advent calendar, or some other Holiday tradition. They hurried along – thinking, like all the rest of us, that there would be plenty of time later for hugs, songs, and the letter of the day. What would they have done differently if they’d known that wasn’t the case? That thought is something I can’t stand to keep in my head for long.
We have to find the courage to fix whatever it is that’s making this scene play out again and again – in front of a supermarket, inside a movie theatre, and now, inside an elementary school. Whether we address the widespread availability of guns, the lack of resources for the mentally ill, or the terrible ease with which those two things can intersect, we have no option but to act. Because the suffering of those parents cannot have been in vain.
In the meantime, I will try my best to celebrate the gift I have been given. Tonight, even while she squirmed in the back seat, scream-singing “one more pizza Lunchable” to the tune of the Olympic Fanfare, I could not have been more thankful. Because tonight, I got to kiss my little girl good night. Nothing I write here could possibly do justice to that.