What Sandy Hook Taught Me: Keep My Girls Close

photo credit: Kalexanderson via photopin cc
photo credit: Kalexanderson via photopin cc

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.

Some said 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?

Very little we can do

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, her boyfriend, and their two young kids left quickly, and left so much behind. Our backs ached as we stuffed garbage bags of scrawled pictures and notes in kindergarten handwriting, dolls and stuffed toys, sippy cups and puzzle pieces from her own kids.

Everything, except the girl

This kid I knew, adorable as an elementary school student, cute in a gothic teen stage, pretty as she approached adulthood, left behind a 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, yet, not good enough to keep the child close. Barriers got in the way. What barriers, I don’t know. The girl was gone, though. 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.

The aftermath, with my girl

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.

Everything. 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 my car around to face the mod to which she walked. She turned around and saw me there. When she reached 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.

How I can be happy


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.

Or not.



  1. Kristl says:

    This is honestly the best article I have read about responding to the Sandy Hook shootings! You have a way of tugging at the heart!

    1. Thanks, Kristl. In my quest to find something compelling to say about the tragedy, I found that I had no answers, just a reaction. It’s from the heart, though.

  2. rsrote says:

    so honest and raw–you really right on point—what “CAN” we do I pray over mine and leave the rest in Gods hands—My kids school is pretty secure, locked doors and security cameras all around , but if someone wants in and is not in the right state of mind–nothing will stop them. The school has run through intruder drills,but you just pray they will never have to implement the plan.

    1. One thing that makes me feel more secure is that I know the girls’ teachers would do everything they can to protect them and all the kids. We are so fortunate to have people like this teaching our kids.

  3. annagain says:

    I’m so happy I found your blog through VoiceBoks. I actually just wrote some of my feelings about Sandy Hook this morning. I can relate to your words and feel so happy to have made this connection today.


    1. Me too Ann – I’m off to check out your post, too. Glad you made it here, and I hope you’ll come back.

  4. Gina says:

    Very nice article. I like your take on it… I also like that you are not looking for someone to blame. I feel that it just brings in more negativity to it. It is best to enjoy and love your family every moment you get.

    1. Thanks, Gina. The blame game never works, does it? Sometimes we feel like we need a scapegoat, though, and we can make something like this political. It should never be political. I like your advice about enjoying and loving your family every moment we get.

      I want to get back to making fun of them and writing funny blog posts.

  5. Laura says:

    I live in Pearl, MS (where Luke Woodham shot up the school). Both of my girls were in elementary at that time. When my oldest entered high school & I walked her inside to register her & I stood there in the Commons where the shooting happened, I started hyperventilating. I was scared for her to go there, but she did. It’s sad that the high school has to hold drills, so the students will no what to do in the case of another gunman. Of course, there are bulletproof windows now & no one can get into the school without being buzzed in, but after what happened at Sandy Hook, it doesn’t bring much comfort. (My oldest has now graduated & my youngest is finishing up online.)

    It’s good to see you are an involved dad, because so many fathers aren’t involved & that will bring comfort and security to your children. This was a very moving post.

    Stopping by from VoiceBoks!

    1. Thank you, Laura. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to be in a place where something like that happened, especially so close to home. The schools and towns become synonymous with the tragedies, too – Sandy Hook, Columbine, Pearl, Virginia Tech.

      I think my most important job here is to be a dad, even above being a writer for my job or a really, really good fantasy football owner. Or wannabe chef. I tell them all the time, no matter when they need me, I will be there.

      Thanks for stopping by, Laura.

  6. Wonderful post. It’s good to be reminded of what parts of life you can and can’t control as a parent. It’s so important to make every single little moment count!

    1. Thanks. I think we parents can drive ourselves nuts with worry. And it probably role models it for the kids, too, right? I mean, they copy me when I leave my shoes in the middle of the floor and belch for show, so I’m guessing they watch everything! I’d rather role model something healthy, like a great gratitude for just having them close.

  7. Chris Carter says:

    Love. This. 🙂 I love how you shared this powerful story and the parallel of loss in your friend’s daughter. My heart ached in a deep resonating fear of losing my own kids… to anything. Hold them close. And go to the breakfast buffet early.

    1. Thanks Chris. The breakfast buffet is our thing, you know? Like scoring a baseball game is with Marie, or drawing pictures with Grace. It’s what we do. And it keeps us close. Sandy Hook just seemed to draw back the memory of my friend’s step-daughter, and although it didn’t give me any answers, it all started to make sense.

  8. Eli, this was amazing! It gave me chills. you eloquently put into words what every parent is thinking. We have to remember that this happened and not let those barriers keep us from loving and enjoying our children. None of us can predict what will happen tomorrow.

    1. Thanks so much Kathy. It’s a scary life as a parent, if you let it be, but you don’t want your fears to keep you from enjoying every moment you can. We can’t ignore what happened, but we can’t let it paralyze us, you know? I can predict what will happen tomorrow, to an extent – I can predict that I’ll be present in my kids’ life, even if the moment isn’t profound.

  9. Becca says:

    So true. The barriers. That’s our job, to keep them to a minimum. It’s a big job, it’s an important job. I felt so sad thinking of all that girl left behind, all the little pieces of life that didn’t matter as much because of the barriers…it’s funny how some of us cling to those things and some of us just leave them behind…Nice post.

    1. Thanks Becca. I think we inadvertently create the barriers sometimes, when we should be staving them off. It’s huge. Parents can rave all they want about wanting their own life back, or doing things for them, and I’m in favor of taking care of yourself – but when we become parents, that becomes job 1. The things we leave behind mean nothing. Just remember any news report you see of a family who loses everything in a natural disaster, but everyone survives – they don’t gripe about the X-box or Tickle Me Elmo being lost.

      You can start over collecting junk. The thing you want to make sure you’re close enough to grab if you need to is the kids.

  10. annmariguben says:

    Uggh…you hit the nail on the head with realizing there isn’t much we “can” do. I want some magic formula both for keeping them safe and keeping them close and ther just isn’t one. I can only keep doing what I am doing and pray and hope that it is enough. Enough to keep the barriers away. Enough to keep them safe. Great post, my friend.

    1. We just have to key on the things we *can* impact. I think dads are really good at this, and we should exercise it more. Sure, we do our share of lamenting what we mess up or can’t fix, but I think we do a good job of keying on the things we can. I think also it’s playing it by your instincts, too. Parents know what to do instinctively, but do we listen to our intuition? Just keep the path clear, so the kid can get to you in a time of need, and you can get to them in a hurry. That’s the safe distance.

  11. I love this post! Nice to meet you! Here from LinkedIn

    1. Thanks Cheryl! Add me on LinkedIn, would you? I am following you on Twitter now and will check out your blog today.

  12. Daphne says:

    Eli, this is awesome….I’ve been struggling with the right words to write about the tragedy….none seem to come. Thanks for giving your words to many and I know exactly how you feel.

    1. Thanks Daphne. I struggled right up to and including the moment I hit “publish.” I don’t think I have any answers, just reactions. I know you know what I’m talking about.

  13. ilene says:

    Eli, this is by far my favorite “post Sandy Hook shooting” blog post. Because it’s REAL. It’s not angry or preachy and you don’t claim to have “the answer” to what is wrong with our country. I’m going to keep my kids close too. And hopefully, I, too, will never have to toss a trophy in a dumpster.

    1. Thanks Ilene. It felt real, and it’s strange, because I was hoping to come up with some answer, something we could try to do more concrete than keeping the kids close. Not that doing that is a bad thing. Who am I to say who’s to blame? I just know there are lives shattered, and those lives are not so different from yours and mine. Maybe it’s the reaction you see most in nature, when the buffalo herd makes a ring around its young when trouble threatens.

      I just realize I compared us to buffalo, but at least they have the right idea.

      Here’s to hoping all our kids’ trophies stay firmly on the shelf, collecting dust and bringing back memories. So much better than the alternative.

  14. This is a great post and it really hit home.
    My Husband and I were devastated by the events at Sandy Hook and couldn’t even talk about it for the first week or so. We have Grandbabies the same age as those children and it just upset us so badly.

    1. Thank you Lisa! There was something that really tore away our innocence with this tragedy, and I think it was about the kids’ ages and the relative safety of a town like this. How it can all change in an instant. I wasn’t able to do much news reading after the event, honestly. I knew what I knew, and I thought of what the classrooms were like when my girls were that age. I’d love nothing more than for that to never, ever happen again.

  15. Ashley T. says:

    Great blog, Eli. I have so many words about this tragedy but nothing seems to say it well enough. Like always, you have said it better than I ever could.

    1. Thanks Ashley. I don’t think anyone has said it well enough, me included, but we can say a ton with what we do today, can’t we?

  16. Shadra Bruce says:

    This was such a heartfelt and intelligent response. Thank you. I hope you’ll take a moment to read mine. http://momsgetreal.com/2012/12/broken-hearts-and-lost-dreams/

  17. Tricia says:

    I missed this back in January but Ilene led me here today and I’m so glad. I needed this today.

    1. Ilene’s the best – I’m glad you wound up here today. I don’t think these feelings are always tied to a traumatic event – we feel this as parents pretty often, don’t you think?

  18. Tamara says:

    I love this. I wish I had seen it when it was posted but Ilene also led me here today, like Tricia. Bookmarked.

    1. Thanks, Tamara. I struggled writing it because I had no answers, but then it got easy when I realized … I had no answers. None of us do. All we can do is love.

      Great to have you here.

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