Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Way It's Supposed to Be: Reflections on Sandy Hook

I finally remembered the unicorn. It had been in our car since Sunday when our granddaughters, five-year-old Chelsea and 18-month-old Zoey, went to church with us. We took the girls home after Sunday lunch, but Chelsea left the little stuffed toy in our car.

That Friday morning, December 14, 2012, we drove to their house to take Chelsea and eight-year-old Damon to school as we do many schooldays. All week I had kept forgetting to return the unicorn. Until that day.

We arrived at their house and found Chelsea as we do every schoolday, dressed and sitting in her little girl chair in the middle of the living room, watching “Charlie and Lola” on TV. Damon was nowhere to be found. We knew he was in the house somewhere, and older people were around but asleep. I finally spotted two legs sticking out from under the Christmas tree like the Wicked Witch of the East under Dorothy's fallen house. After we pulled him out, we laughed a little and gathered up the children and their things.

Before we left the house, Chelsea grabbed a pink box that opens at the top and has two opening drawers in the front. She gave it to me and said “You take this home and put stuff in it.” When we got to the car, she elaborated to Meemaw, “ You put stuff in it, and Peepaw puts stuff in it. Then you can bring it back to me tomorrow or Sunday.” We took in our instructions obediently. I’m pretty sure she just wanted us to have something else of hers since we returned the unicorn.

 Whitsitt Elementary School is only about four blocks from the house, but as the weather is getting colder we prefer driving the kids to school. Once we pulled out of the driveway, Meemaw   started the prayer.  “God we thank you for this day. And we ask that you be with Damon and Chelsea at school today. We ask for their protection. And we pray that they will be obedient to their teachers and kind to their classmates. We pray that everyone will be kind to them. We pray that they will know that You are with them. In Jesus’ Name.  Amen.”  

As we approached the drive up to the school, Meemaw said, as usual, “Wave to Mommy.” Chelsea and Damon’s mom, Chrissy, is a crossing guard at their school. We always wave to her as we drive up to the school.

We parked and headed into the building and walked the short entry hallway. From there, the second through fourth graders turn right and the pre-K through first graders turn left to get to their respective classrooms. At this point we typically wait for Damon’s decision. He might want to go to breakfast, might want to walk alone to class, or might want to have company walking to his second- grade class. “Company” usually means Meemaw, since I am designated to walk with Chelsea, who always just wants to get to class as soon as possible and would be just as happy to walk all by herself.  

Chelsea and I both love the walk, but we are really in different worlds, I think. I am an observer, amazed and delighted to see how the children at Whitsitt respond to one another every day. The school exudes kindness, friendliness, and safety. And yes I have to mention the racial make-up of the student body. It’s perhaps 80% Latino with a handful of black students and white students. That make-up matters to me, mainly because it doesn’t seem to matter to the children. Brown, black, and white pre-K through fourth grade boys and girls walk hand in hand or arm and arm. They are not supposed to speak, because it’s Zone Zero in the halls, but they smile and wave and sneak in a “Hi Chelsea” whenever they can. Chelsea is obediently silent, but also smiles and waves. And she soaks it in.

On this day Damon decided to walk to class on his own, so Meemaw hugged him and said goodbye before joining me and Chelsea. As usual Chelsea’s mood grew more quietly excited as she walked down the hall. We finally got her to her class, where she stopped to hug Meemaw, and I kneeled down so that she could half-hug me. She doesn’t like this moment because she’s already in school mode, but she always accommodates us. By then she was beaming. Mrs. Williams greeted her at the door, and Chelsea entered her kindergarten classroom, her second home, safe and sound.

After the events at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, that day, we made a point of going to Damon and Chelsea's house after school. We just wanted to see their little faces. When we walked in, Chelsea wanted to know if I had brought back her pink box. I reminded her that I have until Sunday. She giggled, “That’s right. I’ll see you Sunday!”

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