Kiss your kids and hug them tightly tonight, you said, mom bloggers.
Reform gun-control laws, you said, concerned liberals.
Outfit schools with armed guards, you said, National Rifle Association.
In the aftermath of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in December, everyone had an idea of something to do, whether it would be to ban assault weapons because who needs them, anyway, or to ban the term “assault weapon” because it’s unfair to those who love multitudes of rounds in their gun-firing experience.
What should I do, though, a low-middle class dad with three kids in two schools, a right-leaning registered independent who owns no firearms and could more easily match up Star Wars characters with their weapons than actually purchase ammunition?
There has to be something, right?
Something more profound than anger toward a gunman or concern for his mental state and intense grief for the little children laid to rest just before Christmas, right?
Something more I can do rather than drop my daughter off at high school and hope and pray, right?
Something more than a day of blogger silence or gamer silence on violent video games or emails fired off to school administrators asking what if?
I’ve come to a conclusion. There’s actually very little I can do.
Well, except one thing: Keep these girls close.
Not as in, home school. Or lock in a cellar. Or even keep home from school for a day, as a neighbor did right after the tragedy. Keep the barriers to minimum. I mean barriers, as in arguments, disagreements, preoccupation with Web-enabled devices or bowl games or agendas that prioritize anything other than them and the job of helping to raise them.
Over a couple of weekends, I helped a friend clean out a house after his stepdaughter moved out. She and her boyfriend – and their two young kids – left quickly, and left so much behind.
Our backs ached as we stuffed garbage bags of her things, scrawled pictures and notes in kindergarten handwriting, dolls and stuffed toys, sippy cups and puzzle pieces from her own kids. This kid I knew, adorable as an elementary school student, cute, even, in a gothy teen stage, pretty as she approached adulthood, left behind an entire history of her life, from the first bags of cosmetics, sketch books, college course catalogs, trophies, toys, musings, expensive boots.
Everything was here.
Everything, except the girl.
Two hulking dumpsters brimmed with most of what she left behind. Unfinished art projects. Cook books and photo albums. Once-coveted Christmas toys.
Stuff. Lots, and lots of stuff.
Good stuff, too. But none kept the child close.
Barriers got in the way. What barriers, I don’t know for sure.
But the girl was gone. Her stuff was here. And it didn’t mean a thing.
On that first day, I stood beside the dumpster with a softball trophy in my hand. Her trophy.
She probably received it at an end-of-season banquet. For at least a day, it meant something. It symbolized a season of growth, wins and losses, friends and rivals.
My girls have shelves full of trophies.
Each one stands for all these things to her. And to me.
I promised myself right before I tossed that trophy on the heap that I’d do everything I could to ensure no one ever would toss one of my girls’ trophies in a dumpster.
* * * * * * *
The Monday after the Sandy Hook shooting, as we drove to school, Elise turned down the radio.
“All the mods are unlocked all day, dad,” she said. “Anyone could just walk right in. And there’s the forest right behind us. Anyone could just come in and …”
I know, honey.
I pulled around so that my car could face the mod she walked to. She turned around a time or two and saw me there.
When she got to the door she turned again.
I can’t accurately describe what I saw on her face right then, just before she turned and went to class.
She was scared.
I was too.
I can’t stake out her modular classroom with a gun.
I can’t promise her everything would be OK. Today. Or any day.
I can’t promise no kids at her school were on the brink of an apocalyptic plot.
I can be happy she always volunteers to grocery shop with me. Or run with me at the park, or buy cheap tickets to another Bobcats game. On our next trip, we’ll sneak down to the free breakfast buffet at the hotel, before anyone else wakes up.
I can make sure I take her to school every morning. We might even turn the radio down and talk.