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Dec 17 2012

My Parenting Mistake: I Didn’t Talk to My Son About Sandy Hook

By at 11:11 am

boy in backseat of carI have made many mistakes as a parent. But none as terrible as the one I made this weekend. I am struck by this realization as I drive my son to school this morning.

Perhaps it is the act of tapping the brakes that triggers my remorse. This is exactly where I sat on Friday when I heard the news of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I was sitting in the driver’s seat when I mistakenly decided not to discuss this news with my son.

Turning off the car radio and wiping the tears from my face with my sweatshirt sleeve, I inched forward in the carpool line. When he closed the car door behind him and tugged his seatbelt into place, I asked the same question that I ask every afternoon: “How was your day today?” Five words. Then I listened intently as he answered, glancing in the rearview mirror, memorizing his animated expression, making a deliberate choice to attempt to shield him from the horrific story I’d heard before he got into the car.

My spouse and our teenage daughters agreed not to speak a single word of the school shooting at our Shabbat dinner table. I buried the front section of the newspaper in the recycling bin after reading it Shabbat morning. Saturday night, we lit the Hanukkah candles and ate latkes. On Sunday, we prepared for the last week of school before winter break.

I pretended it was a normal weekend, which, of course, it wasn’t: there was an abnormal amount of mother-hugging-her-son for no apparent reason. When I asked to hug him last night after dinner, he reluctantly permitted me this indulgence before reminding me that he is nearly 11 years old: “The only times you can hug me on weekdays are 7:00-8:00 in the morning and 9:00-10:00 at night. But I’ll be flexible on the weekends,” he reassured me.

Just after 8:00 a.m. on Monday I realize, too late, that I have failed to prepare my son for what he will likely hear at school today. I now know that he and his father watched the President speak–his remarks interrupting the basketball game–but they didn’t really discuss what happened. I tell myself, as we pull out of the driveway, that I just wanted to protect him. But if I am being honest, I was trying to protect myself. And despite my earnest attempts, I’ve left myself vulnerable: the pain I experienced upon hearing the news on Friday jolts me anew.

Glancing at his sleepy face in my rearview mirror, I also realize that I have not hugged him this morning. I begin tentatively. Ten words: “Do you want to talk about what happened in Connecticut?”

As the car inches slowly through morning traffic on this rainy Monday, I discuss the unspeakable with my son. I attempt to reassure him that his school is a safe place, just as the Head of School tried to reassure me and other parents in an email on Friday afternoon. Somehow, I manage to choose my words carefully and keep my voice steady. I falter only as I say the last three words before he closes the car door and walks away from me.

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