Freedom From the “What If Only?”: Some Thoughts on Sandy Hook

Hannah Sandy Hook painting

Image via Hannah Renae Art

Let’s just say that having barely survived the last 4 days, I am now willing to reconsider my position on the flu vaccine. First Salem and then myself, and now little Mia is turning up sniffly. Clark is the only one who has managed to avoid the viral plague. He had to stay home from work yesterday on account of my being completely incapacitated. Earth could be under threat of evisceration by Melancholia, and I will still manage to empty the dishwasher before the sun comes up. So for Clark to wake me by asking if I wanted lunch at ELEVEN FORTY FIVE, it is safe to assume this isn’t your garden variety head cold. Now seeing as I slept more yesterday than I’ve slept since I was single and unemployed, it isn’t any wonder that I was up at 3am throwing the covers on and off and then on and then off again– thinking… thinking…thinking… Yesterday’s flu-medicated stupor had worn off sending my brain into hyperdrive. Sure, I thought about things every woman thinks about at 3am… my Christmas menu, my holiday wardrobe, my crusty kitchen floor, my pre-schooler’s class party… in no particular order of priority. But most of all, I thought about the families of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. If I’m honest, my thoughts and emotions have ranged from morbid fantasies of what if that was my child or what if I was that parent to simply being unable to stomach the reality, so why not watch another episode of Property Brothers and pretend like everything is business as normal. But could there be anything less normal than the seemingly motive-less murder of innocent children? And people have had all to much courage to speak from their self-published, social-web platforms, but let’s face it, all of our efforts to try to explain, justify, spiritualize, or politicize what happened on Friday just adds salt to the wound. Perhaps there will be a time and place, but for the Newtown families who wring their hands and cry “if only”, this is hardly the ideal occasion to prove a point. Agreed? God, help us grieve with those who grieve.

I have come across some perspectives that do help, like this *inspired painting by my friend, Hannah. Such a beautiful picture of freedom for the children and faculty whose lives were over before they most likely realized it was about to end. But what does freedom look like for those who remain toiling through the land mine of unanswered questions? We ladies especially are field experts at asking one unanswerable question in particular… “what if?” For instance…

What if I never find a man and get married?
What if the man I never find loses his job, or loses his hair, or loses his nerve and leaves me at the altar?
What if we can’t have kids?
What if we have kids and they grow up to be terrorists?
What if we vaccinate our kids and they grow up to be, autistic (yet polio-resistant) terrorists?
What if they drop out of school or join the cast of 16 and Pregnant?
What if they don’t get into college?
What if they do get into college and major in something completely useless like Music History? (Why didn’t anyone tell me so?)
What if they do get into drugs… into gangs… into prison… into the Amish Mafia?

If you have asked any combination of the above “what if” questions, then make me feel more sane and comment below, but at least admit that we spend most of our motherhood trying to “what if?”-proof ourselves and our kids from any of the aforementioned scenarios and then some. It is why we marry young, marry for love, marry for money, remain childless, fill the quiver with more arrows than Legolas himself can throw, vaccinate, don’t vaccinate, breastfeed, bottle-feed, sanitize, play in the dirt, pre-school, home-school, un-school, buy organic, buy imitation, Gluten-Free, Red 40, Free & Clear, or Expensive & Cluttered… the choices are endless! If I can somehow make a decision that keeps the “what if?” question from ever being answered much less having to be asked, then I may just go on believing that I am the Master of My Own Fate and the Fate of My Dependents.

I doubt that one parent of any of the Sandy Hook victims feared, “What if I drop my kid off at school today, and it is the last time I ever see him or her alive?” And yet, the only phrase more tortuous than “what if?” is one that I can only imagine some of them are using now because it is a universal fact that when something goes down involving our children, all parents everywhere hold an honorary PhD in Blaming Ourselves. When “what if” becomes “if only”…

If only we hadn’t moved to that community, to that neighborhood, to that district…
If only we had put him in private school…
If only we had kept her home that day…
If only fire arms were banned…
If only the criminally insane wore a sandwich sign board…
If only… if only… if only…

…and round and round until the grief has run its viral course, if it ever does completely run its course. The truth is that when I lie awake at 3am fearing the “what if” in order to avoid the “if only” at all costs, I will spend my daytime hours under the false assumption that if I can brew the perfect mix of parental smarts with the right amount of preventative measure, I can somehow make enough decisions that will insulate me and my children from the ills of the world around us thus guaranteeing optimal health and well-being with a side order of a successful future. By no means am I suggesting that we send our kids out for some playtime on I-75 because after all, we don’t control our own destinies. But what I am saying is that I can labor over the big decisions with all the research and conviction and sleeplessness I can stand and then make a seemingly mindless choice– walk or drive, Kroger or Publix, drop him off or keep him home, and that is the option that made all the difference. I can simply be grateful that there is a God, and I certainly am not Him, and He didn’t assign me the task of coming up with a half-baked explanation for what happened on Friday.

Final question…What does freedom look like for those of us parents still struggling with so many unanswered questions?

Perhaps freedom is…
… climbing into bed with your sick pre-schooler even though all the books warn you not to for fear they want you to sleep in their bed until they graduate from high school.
… wiping his snotty nose for him even though he is quite old enough to wipe it himself, but his Autism keeps him terrified of getting his hands dirty.
… letting her watch Toy Story 3 for quite possibly the 500th time this month even though it means exceeding the hour dose of recommended television per day.
… sending your child to a specialized pre-school program to expand your support for his special needs in spite of all the well-meaning parents who led you to believe your kid was bound to become an anarchist if you chose to educate him any other way than by homeschooling.
…letting her eat the batter
…letting him avoid large crowds
…letting them hear mom and dad fight fair
…letting her explore her Papaw’s Skoal can (Whoa now! Reel it on in.)

What does freedom look like for you this season?

*proceeds from the purchase of this painting help benefit The Sandy Hook Elementary School Victims Relief Fund

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