It was almost a year ago that I made a promise to myself.
On December 14, 2012, I watched the news coverage from my living room while my rambunctious 3-year-old played around me. He was loud. Making boy noises and knocking things over the way only boys can. I’m sure I scolded him over something-or-other as Moms are prone to do.
I was stressed. We were preparing to the travel to visit family across the country. Christmas was coming. Our calendar was full every single day for the rest of December. There was suitcase-packing. Present-wrapping. Baking. Planning. I’m sure I snapped at him a few times. I’m sure I was impatient. I’m sure I had other priorities when he wanted me to just put everything down and spend time with him.
Then the news report came on the TV. The children lost in Newtown, CT. Those sweet beautiful children. There was no part of me that didn’t ache for the heart and soul of every one of those parents.
I scooped my baby boy into my arms with tears running down my face. Because I could. And because somewhere across the country there were Moms who never could again. I held him and cried, even when he started squirming, ready to go play with his Legos.
“Mom are you okay?” he finally asked.
“No baby. No. I just want you to know just how much I love you. So very very much. I am so thankful for you.”
“Okay Mommy.” This explanation was enough. He gave me a kiss on the nose as he is prone to do and scampered off.
I became obsessive in my heartbreak. I read every article I could find. In so many of them, Moms told stories of their last goodbye to their child. The things they said. The things they wished they had said. It transformed my entire life.
I understand these “last goodbyes” in ways that some people don’t. My husband spent years in a war zone with me on the other side of the world. His job was dangerous. When we hung up the phone after those talks and he told me he was going to “work,” I knew he was going to where bullets fly and where he would be driving over roadside bombs. Any one of them could be the one that took his life. In later years. he would tell me stories that I never wanted to know of driving over bombs that somehow never went off or being 30 feet away from one that did. Still, my husband came home. Thank you Jesus, my husband came home. Some of his friends did not.
This is why I understood the importance of never leaving things unsaid. Never holding grudges. I knew that these phone calls could be our last one. Any one of them. It has changed how I view “goodbyes.” How I view “goodnights.” They are precious and should never end in anger. I thought I understood.
But somehow I had never thought the same about this little boy who throws Angry Birds at my breakables and sometimes forgets to use his indoor voice. Of course we always have tomorrow. He’s just a child. Children grow up. We have years.
And then Newtown changed my world. Those poor sweet Mamas, they don’t get another chance. They can’t say “I love you” or hold those sweet little faces in their hands. They don’t get another chance to say “it doesn’t matter what you broke or how many times you need to be reminded to clean your room, I love you and you are my treasure.”
This changed my entire outlook on parenting.
I told someone this once and she laughed at me. She said “well you go ahead and don’t discipline your kid because he could be gone tomorrow and then tell me how much you wind up paying in bail when he’s 20,” she said with a scoff. No. She didn’t understand. It doesn’t mean I don’t discipline my child. I do. I have to. That’s part of loving him. Molding him. Helping him to establish right from wrong. Helping him to become someone who puts more good into the world. But now I remember to tell him that these things come from a place of love. If a punishment must be given, it ends with a reminder that I love him and nothing he could do would ever change that, whether he is angry with me or not.
Jesus doesn’t hold grudges. I should never have been doing so to begin with. There will never be a moment that I go to Jesus and say “I’m so sorry I messed up” where He responds “no, I’m still mad at you for the stupid thing you did this morning.” My Father always has time for me. I never come to Him and he responds, "I'm sorry, I'm too busy."
This is the kind of parent I want to be. I want to be like my Father. Newtown reminded me.
I made a promise to myself that day that this would be my goal every single day. I want to forgive. I want to speak in love. I want my baby boy to know that he’s important. I want to put down the things that can wait and show him how much he matters to me. By doing the things that matter to him. By giving him my time, my words, my love. And when I forget, which I will - because part of being human is being imperfect - I will simply apologize and try again because I know now how important this is. Because sometimes you never get another chance.
Newtown changed me. It made me cherish my time with my son. We snuggle. We laugh. We remember, because of Newtown, that our days our numbered. For some, there are smaller numbers than others. But only God knows how many there are, and more importantly - whether it’s 1 or 10,000 - I don’t want to miss out on a single one.
To the Mamas and Daddies of Newtown who must hold their sweet babies in their hearts instead of their arms, my heart is with yours. Not just on the anniversary of the horrible events that took place, but every time I hold my son instead of holding on to anger and frustration. Every time I speak in love instead of yell. Every time I kiss him goodnight instead of sending him to bed in haste, simply glad that another frustrating day is over.
It is in your childrens’ memory that I have vowed to put more good in the world. A little more kindness. A little more gentleness. And a lot more love.