Newtown Massacre and Grandma’s Responsibility

It is now nearly four weeks since the Newtown massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School and you would think the brutal news would not be the subject of daily visuals on media.  However, that is not to be.  Two of my grandchildren live in Connecticut, about an hour or less from Newtown.  My daughter knows people who know people who are friends with parents of a murdered child.  She told me that at one funeral that Governor Malloy attended, the mother took the governor to the open casket and asked him to look at what a child who is six with eleven bullets in him looks like and to remember that.  I cannot imagine the pain.  I also feel pain.  My granddaughter is six, the age of most of the murdered children.

My daughter who lives in Connecticut sent me an email that included a link to an article that appeared on line in the Huffington Post, “What Six Looks Like,”written by Jennifer Rowe Walters, a teacher and a mother of a six year old.  The article has been passed around via the web among moms, at least in Connecticut.   It is worth all of us grandmas reading.

Here is what Jennifer Rowe Walters wrote that touched my heart:

“I am not really a major cryer. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I cry — when it’s appropriate to do so. Funerals. The occasional wedding if it’s particularly beautiful or meaningful. Schindler’s List. Things that normal people cry at. I am definitely not an over-cryer. I don’t cry at commercials or cheesy Hallmark movies or at the drop of a hat. And, when I do cry, there’s usually a beginning and an end. I cry. I get it out. I stop. Normal crying.

However, since I first started to understand the magnitude of what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday morning, I have cried a lot. I cried when I heard the terrible news. I cried when I went to pick my son up early from school. I cried when I told my husband what had happened. I cried when I talked to my girlfriends about it. I cried at church when we prayed for each victim by name. Off and on for going on three days now, I have cried. And this is despite going out of my way to not watch anything about it on TV or read too much about it online. I’m actively trying to avoid it, but I still find myself crying more than usual.

SadI mentioned this to a friend last night and she said that she couldn’t seem to stop crying either. When I asked her why she thought that was, her answer was, for me, a revelation. She said, “I think it’s because we know what six looks like. We see it every day… in all its glory.” And she was right. Because, you see, this friend and I both have a six-year-old child. I, a six-year-old son. She, a six-year-old daughter. Both are in first grade. Both, I imagine, so heart-breakingly similar to those 20 kids who were so brutally and senselessly killed on Friday morning. And we do, indeed, know what six looks like. We do see it every day. In all its glory. We see the good, the bad and the ugly. The beautiful and the infuriating. It’s in our face. We live it and breathe it.

We know what six looks like. We know what it smells like. How it can go from the fresh scent of shampoo and soap to the musky aroma of “dirty child” in what seems like minutes. How it resists getting in the bathtub… and then resists getting out half an hour later. How sweet its hair and skin and clean jammies smell when it sits on your lap and asks you to read it a bedtime story. We know the unmistakable fragrance of the occasional accident in the middle of the night caused by too much milk and no last-thing-before-bed visit to the toilet.

We know what six looks like. We know what it sounds like. How it cries and whines. How it sings and laughs. How clever it is and how much more clever it grows every day. How it sounds out words on signs as we drive past in the car and how happy it is when it gets them right. How annoying it sounds when it teases its little sister and how kind it sounds when it soothes her when she falls down and hurts herself. We know how lovely the words “Mommy” and “Daddy” and “I Love You” sound in its six-year-old voice.

We know what six looks like. We know how it tastes. How picky it is. How it thinks chicken nuggets or macaroni and cheese are gourmet foods. How much it loves candy and cookies. How it tolerates broccoli and carrots. How it absolutely abhors Brussels sprouts. How it thinks French fries are a vegetable. How it thinks chocolate milk was created by God himself. How it thinks pizza is its own food group. We know that six is happy when it finds “I love you!” written on a napkin in its lunch box at school.

We know what six looks like. We know how it feels. How big it’s getting. How fast it outgrows its clothes and how it’s no longer a baby, but not quite yet a big kid. We know the weight of six in our arms. How we can barely carry it anymore, but try anyway because we can’t quite bring ourselves to accept the truth. We know how easily six gets its feelings hurt if someone says just the wrong thing or if this friend or that one doesn’t want to play with it or it gets in trouble at school. We know the velvety softness of six’s skin. We know the still-silkiness of its hair.

Yes, we know what six looks like. We know six’s gap-toothed smile and its gangly arms and legs. We see how it jumps and dances. How it twirls and runs. We know how funny six is. How absolutely charming it can be. We know six’s terrible jokes. We know how obsessed it is with “Minecraft.” We know its crooked “S” and its backwards “3.” We see how it teeters on the cusp of the world of books and all the joys of reading, but how it’s not quite ready to fall in yet. We see how six can’t decide if it wants us to stand beside it or not. We watch it take two steps towards independence and one step back towards us every day. We know how sturdy and strong six is… and yet how frail and fragile.

We know what six looks like. How beautiful it is. How precious. How brightly it shines with promise. How much it looks towards the future… toward 7,8,9… How much it looks like forever.

We know what six looks like and can only in our worst nightmares imagine how devastating its loss in this senseless and evil way would be. We can only barely imagine the wreckage and the despair and the utter hopelessness that would be left if six were brutally and suddenly taken from us. We know we couldn’t bear life without it.

Yes, we know what six looks like. And we know that, to us — like it must be for those other mothers and fathers in Connecticut — six is the whole world.”

Oh, My. The title of this post talks about grandma’s responsibility, so here is what I think our responsibility as grandparents is in light of the Newtown massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  I could talk about gun control issues, but that is all anyone one is talking about. All I will say about this is that 53% of us in the United States are now in favor of gun control because of this horrific event.  There are still 47% of us in our country against gun control.  We have become a 50/50 country on every issue it seems. Take your side, but please do not stop the dialogue there.  Please do not stop the dialogue on the also disputed issue of whether we are doing enough for the mentally ill in our country either.

We grandparents mostly grew up in the 1950s and the 1960s.  We, in the 1950s, at six years old, could walk to school by ourselves.  My parents let my brother and me take a train from Long Island suburbs into New York City to go to museums ourselves as preteens.   My father took long walks every night in New York suburbs until 1968.  He was mugged while walking at night in 1968. We moved to Florida immediately thereafter.  As a Holocaust survivor, feeling safe was important to him and he wanted to move where he would feel safe again when New York began to feel unsafe to him.

What we did not know was that the 1950s was the safest time in the history of mankind.  Our doors were not locked and did not need to be.  The period of our youth WAS a period of  abnormal safety.  Today is more the norm of how people treat, or should I say mistreat, each other.  It is our youth that is the anomaly. In this decade, we grandmas look for gated communities in which to live.

My grandchildren’s school is now getting an armed officer.  The local government is having police drive by the schools during the school day.  I mentioned to my daughter that in our community police cars not in use or going out of service are parked in areas as a deterrant. Not a bad idea to suggest to our local governments to park them in front of schools.

I think our responsibility is to encourage our children to emphasize personal safety issues with our grandchildren.  Personal safety is within our control, when a random criminal event is beyond individual control.  There are children’s books we can buy on personal safety for children.  Karate and self defense lessons for children give them a sense of control over themselves.  Parents can suggest to schools to have speakers on personal safety and strangers.  Parents can suggest to schools that karate and self defense lessons are part of the school curriculum, at least with guest lecturers on these topics.  We can do more about what happens in our grandchildren’s schools and after school.

We think our grandchildren are over programmed, in organized activities every day of the week or playing in play groups rather than riding bikes in the neighborhood.  My daughter said it is not safe to do otherwise.  That had not occurred to me.  School districts have cut physical education, art and music in cost saving measures.  As grandparents, we need to work to put these back into the schools’ budgets.  Most working parents do not have the time nor money to parade our grandchildren to such activities after school.  We should do the driving to activities if we are local and able.  There are now safety concerns to make school the place for strength training and self defense training and exposure to activities no longer safe in the neighborhood.  No parent in 2013 is going to let their children play dodge ball outside alone after school.  The children need these games back into the school curriculum.    The First Lady, Michelle Obama, is promoting physical education for weight issues.  This grandma is promoting physical education for safety issues.

A former First Lady, Hillary Clinton, said it takes a village to raise a child.  We need neighborhoods to be neighborhoods and, as grandparents, encourage our children to know their neighbors and introduce their children to their neighbors.  Safe neighborhood homes need to be identified as emergency places to go.  When my children were little, there were “Block Moms,” moms who did not work and put a sign in the window that this was a “Block Mom” home if a child needed to go there.  I understand that society has changed and there are not too many moms who do not work.  I know that many of those moms, or now dads, who are home are too scared to put such a sign in their window.  Maybe the neighborhood can think of alternatives.  I know my grandchildren know their names, their parents’ names, and how to spell their last names.  I know my grandchildren know their home address and telephone number of their parents at work.  They know to dial 911 in an emergency.  Do yours?

I asked my Connecticut daughter what the effect the Newtown massacre and all the continued press has had on my granddaughter.  She said, at six, my granddaughter said the bad man is dead, so everything is okay.  She said my granddaughter at six seems fine with this explanation.

Last night, during my visit, my granddaughter woke up coughing.  Of course, I ran into her room to hold her and help her fall back to sleep in secure and loving arms.  I held that little body and gently rubbed her back until she fell back to sleep.  She is so small.  Tears came to my eyes.  I know what six feels like.  I know what six looks like.  Unfortunately, what came to mind was that eleven bullets in that small body was an impossibility.  Yet, the reality is that we know there were eleven bullets in at one of the six year olds at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

No, darling granddaughter, it is not going to be okay that this bad man is dead.  But that is not for you to know.  It is for us grandmas to know.  It is for us grandmas to act.  We grandparents must do what we can do to keep our grandchildren safe and make safety of our grandchildren a continuing dialogue with our children, our schools, our communities, and our government.

With a heavy heart,





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