What the Children of Sandy Hook Taught Me to See in My Own Children

"When you're gone, colors seem to fade. When you're gone no New Year's Day parade. When you're gone, colors seem to fade."  -Amos Lee

“When you’re gone, colors seem to fade. When you’re gone no New Year’s Day parade. When you’re gone, colors seem to fade.” -Amos Lee

I’ve come to the conclusion that I would make a lousy reporter. When national tragedies strike, the fast-acting reporters and up-to-the-minute bloggers start firing away on their keyboards. Without delay, their carefully chosen words and eloquently expressed opinions appear in news feeds, hot and fresh for eager readers.

But not mine.

When it comes to the heart-breaking happenings in our world, I require time to process and ponder before putting my thoughts out into the atmosphere.

It’s been one month since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Today I am writing about its impact on my “Hands Free” journey to grasp what really matters.  I hope you’ll agree that it is not too late and never will be.

This is my story …

The night after the shooting, I was very emotional and upset. Much to my dismay, my husband and I made plans weeks prior to attend a holiday gathering in our neighborhood. Though also quite hesitant to leave home, my husband suggested that perhaps being in the company of dear friends was just what we needed. Although my oldest child had not asked many questions about the shooting, I speculated she was more worried than she let on. My gut instinct told me to pull our sitter aside and assure her she could call me for any reason.

About an hour past my 9-year-old’s usual bedtime, the sitter phoned to say she was worried about my daughter. She was having difficulty falling asleep and was concerned about her safety in her parents’ absence.

I was out the door. I couldn’t get to my daughter’s bedside fast enough.

Within thirty seconds of me taking my place beside her, my child fell asleep. Clinging to my right arm, she was safe at last. I was grateful I had come.

But let me be honest.

Prior to December 14th, there’s a good chance I would have been agitated about having to leave the party. Actually, I probably would not have left at all—assuring my sitter that my daughter would be fine if she just rubbed her back for a minute. And while I believe these feelings are quite normal and that parents are deserving of time to themselves, I am on a journey to grasp what matters. And there’s been too many times in my life when I’ve gotten annoyed, frustrated, or worked up because my children were being difficult in their time of need.

But things were different on this night.

And I yearned to capture this newfound patience that accompanied the realization that time with my children – even when they are at their worst – is precious. Yet I feared that as the news crews departed Newtown, my heightened urgency to savor life’s moments would gradually fade away.

Oddly, that is not what happened. In fact, throughout the holidays – when days can be an unpredictable mixture of stress and joy – I found myself at peace with my children regardless of their behavior. Throughout the highs and lows of post-gift-opening let down, boredom, sugar rushes, and sibling rivalry, I was calmer than in holidays past. I was more patient; I could ignore annoyances more easily; I chose my battles more wisely; I relinquished control to order and tidiness and reveled in the fact that were simply together.

Something was in deed different.

My perspective had changed, and whatever it was seemed to be sticking.

At the end of the holiday break, I had my epiphany. We were starting our travels home after a weeklong visit with my parents. Throughout the hour-long car ride to the airport, my oldest daughter was crying. The flight there had been rough due to her sinus congestion. Now the fear of in-flight pain (compounded by the sadness to leave her grandparents) was causing my child to be a complete mess.

But for some reason her incessant whining was not getting under my skin. For some reason compassion and patience prevailed.

As I watched her hastily wipe the snot that ran down her overly pouty face, I said these words to myself:

“It is just one of her many colors.”

Granted, it was not one of my favorite colors, but it was her color of the moment … of that hour … of her time of need.  And soon, with a little patience and compassion, there would be a new color to behold—maybe even one of my favorites.

And that is when I realized what change had taken place in me since December 14th.

When I watched the teary-eyed reporters share details about the children who perished in Sandy Hook Elementary School, I didn’t just hear their stories, I saw their colors.

Jesse loved to run around the farm and play in the hayloft with his friends. His mother lovingly referred to him as “Bingo, Bango, Bongo Drum.” [source]

Chase loved the Yankees, Jimmy Johnson, and American flags. According to his mother, “Chase just loved, period.” [source]

Grace — who was all about peace, gentleness, and kindness — dreamed of one day living on the beach and being a painter. [source]

Emilie possessed an incredible artistic talent. She could often be found carrying crayons, markers, and paper to make colorful cards to cheer up those in need. According to her father, Emilie “loved to pick flowers—like a goat.” He finally told her to limit the picking to dandelions. [source]

In thinking about Jesse, Chase, Grace, Emilie, and all the other children’s vibrant colors, I imagined they probably had many hues, just like my own children, that changed in their times of need—when they were sad, jealous, tired, hungry, worried, upset, or scared. My heart ached for their parents who I surmised would do anything to see their children’s colors, even their not-so-favorite hues, just one more time.

Suddenly my children’s behavior and habits were no longer simply behavior and habits—they were colors. And I have come to realize there is something profoundly forgiving in regarding the behaviors of loved ones as colors rather than in terms of good or bad … pleasant or annoying.

So now I share a taste of this new perspective. Perhaps like me, it will offer you a chance to grasp what really matters long after the news crews go home and the world resumes ‘business as usual’  …

The Colors of You

When you leave the crusts and have a peanut butter smile …
When you sing your posse of stuffed animals to sleep …
When you offer me a hand-picked bouquet of dandelions …
I love you when you’re yellow like a drop of sunshine.

When you ask for the 50th time if we’re done grocery shopping …
When you insist on doing your own hair in a questionable style …
When you sneak candy bars and stuff the wrappers under your bed …
I love you when you’re gray like a rain-soaked day. 

 

When your bitty toes dangle as you sit on the toilet …
When you leave tiny love notes for me to find …
When you twirl with happiness until you fall down in dizzy laughter …
I love you when you’re green like soft, lush grass in springtime.

When you won’t go to sleep …
When you rush through your homework so you can get outside to play …
When you wake up on the wrong side of the bed …
I love you when you’re brown like shriveled foliage in wintertime.

 

When you spot me on the sidelines and your worried face turns to joy …
When you greet me at the door and rush into my arms …
When you say “You’re beautiful” at the precise moment I need hear it …
I love you when you’re silver like a shooting star.

When you don’t want to practice your instrument and let it be known …
When you take ten agonizing minutes to swallow a teaspoon of Amoxicillin …
When you need to use the bathroom five minutes into our 10-hour drive …
I love you when you’re ebony like the dark of night.

Because eventually …
The rain subsides,
The dried-up foliage gives way to lush grass,
The darkest night surrenders to morning’s light,

And our children’s most unbecoming colors turn to gold
When held against the fragility of life.

 

**********************************************

How do honor the parents of this world who have lost so much? I think the brilliant Brené Brown said it best:

“When I asked people who had survived tragedy how we can cultivate and show more compassion for people who are suffering, the answer was always the same: Don’t shrink away from the joy of your child because I’ve lost mine. Don’t take what you have for granted—celebrate it. Don’t apologize for your healthy parents or your great relationship. Be grateful and share your gratitude with others.

One quote that I heard over and over was simply: ‘When you honor what you have, you’re honoring what I’ve lost.’ “ –Brené Brown

Thank you for your colors, precious ones. We shall honor you by celebrating, loving, and cherishing all that we have.

source: https://www.facebook.com/SandyHookRIP

source: https://www.facebook.com/SandyHookRIP

Thank you, my friends, for being part of The Hands Free Revolution.  Let us continue to grasp the moments that matter with the people who matter. I am grateful for the colors you add to my life through your comments and email messages.

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Comments

  1. 4

    Linda says

    Beautiful post! You managed to express in words how I feel in my spirit about all the colors of the rainbow within my son…. Now, if I could just manage to have more of that perspective with my husband. :)

  2. 5

    Isabel says

    This is gorgeous and it made me cry. Last night was rough with Hannah (my 2 year old) not wanting to sleep and keeping Angelique (my 10 year old) up. I was not appreciating her colors, but I will work very hard to remember this article and your beautiful words. It is an effort to remember that my children are not always the beautiful pink of a sunset, but I know that they are capable of that and I need to cherish all their various shades and hues. :)

  3. 6

    Jen says

    What Brene said is so true. When my fiancé died, years ago, it wasn’t the happy couples that upset me, it was the wives complaining incessantly about little things their husbands did to annoy them. Perspective is an amazing tool. I know that I’ve had more patience with my own child, since looking at all those precious faces of Sandy Hook. I hope we can all keep their faces fresh in our minds for a long time as a reminder to be patient, and simply love each other.

  4. 7

    says

    So beautifully written. Know that I am with you in honoring these beautiful lives, and am grateful beyond words for the gift these children and their families have bestowed upon my family.

    Since the tragedy, I have practiced truly “seeing” my child and being fully present. The experience has been amazing and our bond has deepened. In being more patient and more present, I can see his sweet little soul smiling with contentment. After all, isn’t that what we all want? Just to be seen, appreciated and loved?

  5. 8

    Cindy Ellison says

    A post worth waiting for. Such a unique concept, to view our children’s behavior as the colors of the rainbow. I’m sure that our children may view ours the same way, but don’t have the words to express it. Which reminds me of a book that I read to my kids, entitled Little Blue and little Yellow, I think, and showed how when they blended they made green. If we view our behavior towards them as colors, just think of the awesome hues we would have. When they are red with anger and we meet that with sunny yellow, rather than red anger back, WOW we would have vibrant orange! Or when they are in a black mood and we meet them with white clarity and perspective, we lift them maybe not to yellow happiness, but at least to a shade of gray. My youngest child is 24 now, some of the older ones have kids of their own. I share your posts on my FB wall hoping they and other young moms I am friends with will read , ponder and incorporate these ideas into their parenting. I also use them with my grown children and grandchildren. Amazing how something so simple and all around us; color, can change our view and then shape our behavior and theirs. So much cheaper than an iPhone. Thank you for your blog!

  6. 9

    says

    Thank you for a metaphor that is so relatable. I love the song “Colors” by Kira Willey. A children’s song that’s also a great one for parents to listen to once in while. It reminds us that “all the colors of the world are in me.”

  7. 10

    says

    Beautiful words that came at a perfect time. We had our own tragedy hit our family recently and my little’s are hurting, confused, sad and fearful as am I. This has taken my breathe away and it feels like I have lost my footing but I know we will arise out of this. It’s amazing how events like this school shooting or the recent event in our family how it changes the way we see things and how we now react to life around us. Seeing the colors of anger, fear, confusion, sadness…ect on the people I love most in this world takes everything out of me. Thank you for sharing this today.

  8. 11

    Vicki says

    A wonderful way to start the week – a NEEDED post for me today. Thank you! You are such a blessing to me. I appreciate your words more than you know!

  9. 13

    says

    Eloquent. Perfect. Of all the many, many posts, comments, articles & columns I have read in response to the tragedy of Sandy Hook Elementary, yours is by far the most meaningful. You are a wise, wise person. I treasure these words, and am printing them out for frequent re-reading, as they apply not only to this devastating occurrence, but to an admirable & importance perspective on parenting, loving, accepting, and coping with life’s journey.

  10. 14

    Shannon says

    You have an amazing gift you share! Thank you for helping me be the better person I want to be. I am new to your blog but stay up all hours of the night reading your posts. You are part of my families life and I am very greatful for that.
    Amazing!

  11. 15

    says

    I had the same reaction you did. I felt a sense of peace come over me that I hadn’t felt since my daughter had been born. Since then I have noticed my mood and patience has increased for the better.
    I’m happy I got this blog post today in my inbox, it’s a great reminder to keep that peace within.

  12. 16

    says

    Yes. We honor allllll those parents (or anyone) who has lost someone they love when we honor and treasure and regard and savor the moments we have with our own loved ones. Truly, reading your experience of hearing the news and responding with even more regard and mindfulness for your children resonates with my own heart. YES, we are ALL in this together. As you know, Rachel, my family is doing 28 acts of kindness to honor all those who died in Newton, CT. Somehow, that is our alchemy, our healing balm that our family is offering to our world. Many blessings, Lisa
    http://www.barefootbarn.com

  13. 17

    says

    Just found your blog and love your whole concept of hands free living, and of this post. I have found myself in the past few weeks holding on to the tragedy of the shooting….thinking that when I am frustrated with my two year old that I am so LUCKY he is still here for me to even be frustrated at. Amazing how re-framing the situation completely changes your response. Look forward to reading more! Jen

  14. 18

    says

    Totally understand why it took you a while to post this. It was worth the wait. I feel like I’m still processing this event and might be doing so for a while yet. Maybe it’s because my daughter is in kindergarten, so it hit extra close to home. Maybe it’s just because the event still seems so unexplained and random, and that makes it more terrifying. Either way, the sadness and fear I felt upon hearing the news that day still pops up from time to time. I read this article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kim-bongiorno/school-shooting-sandy-hook_b_2303337.html in the days after the shooting. I thought it was beautiful. Thank you for your post on this topic, which was also beautiful.

    • 19

      says

      Oh my, Karoline. Thank you. That piece was breath-taking. What a beautiful perspective: “Tomorrow I’ll continue to do things, big and small, to fill the lives of those I love with the proof that they deserve another day of being loved, as long as I’m able to give it.” I will cherish those words. Thank you for sharing.

  15. 20

    says

    I know I’ve said it before…but you write so beautifully and have such a powerful message for the world. Thank you for sharing! xo

  16. 22

    Brenda Colyer says

    Beautiful post, Rachel. As always!

    I love that you are using your gift to enrich so many lives! Keep up the great work!

  17. 24

    Tanya Offerdahl says

    Thank you never seems enough for the gift of your words, Rachel! This was beautiful and I soaked up every word! This has changed me as well and I realize it in small moments like this morning when everything was hard for my 3 year old and instead of enforcing our rules there were more hugs and kisses. That is a lesson I have continuosly learning from your posts.
    Tanya

  18. 27

    says

    lovely … hopefully we all take a bit of your advice and honor those that are here with patience, compassion and the right to be themselves. I really liked your take on things. I as well had to do much processing after this tragic event and mull it in my mind. I will be following you.

  19. 29

    says

    Another beautiful post. I know you will take it as a compliment that it tempts me to go get my children out of bed and snuggle them while they sleep. You always put things in perspective, and I agree. What happened in Newton made me so grateful for what I have and I have also tried to look at my children differently.

  20. 33

    says

    Oh goodness. I needed to read this today. Today as a day when by 7:30 a.m., I was ready to run screaming from these little people who are in my care, because of bad behavior, disrespectful attitudes, and no listening. But here I sit, gazing over at them as they sit on the couch together, calmly watching a show on my iPad, reconsidering my outlook on the rest of our day. I may not love all the colors they show, but those colors are just a part of who they are as people. Thank you.

  21. 34

    Melissa N. Page says

    I have also had an awakening since the tragedy at Sandy Hook, with my son. I have been more patient, used more humor, laughed more and just enjoyed more deeply, being with him. I wondered too if it would fade but no, I remember all the Sandy Hook children and their parents and I see my child in a whole new light.

  22. 35

    Daisy says

    Thank you for this. A friend of mine lost her baby two weeks ago, she was 8 months pregnant. I just found out today and cried with her ad my two little ones played at my feet. I was more patient with them today, more loving. As your beautiful post reads today, I saw different colors today and appreciated them. It’s pretty cold here today. At 730 pm, coming home from Costco, my daughter was crying to go on her swing. I didn’t want to swing her, it was too cold. But I did. She was happy and after 10 swings we were done. I want this new perspective to last, to remember my friend, SB parents, that would give anything to see the many colors of their babies and to swing them one last time in the cold.

    • 36

      says

      Daisy, I am so sorry for your friend. I am thankful to know she has the support of friends like you. Thank you for sharing your story of saying YES to swing your daughter. What a beautiful example of letting go to grasp what really matters.

  23. 38

    Kevin says

    Thanks for the post. My wife is Kim is a big fan and sends her favorites on to others. I have noticed in myself that I am trying to get home quicker, that I am lingering longer with my child and wife, when I used to be in a hurry to get going. On Christmas break in Florida, I usually go fishing for long blocks of time, and this year I went twice for very short time periods and didn’t really notice. I spent much more time swimming, playing games, and being present with my family. Perhaps I feel I am protecting them by being there; but I surely am appreciating them more. I feel terrible for the victims and families that were shattered by Sandy Hook’s tragedy. I feel terrible that it took something like that to make me slow down to love my family more.

  24. 40

    says

    this post was lovely. i had a very interesting response to sandy hook, unlike any other school shooting we’ve seen in recent past. i chalk it up entirely to the fact that i am now the mother of two young sons. i felt the pain of the parents/strangers. i imagined myself in their shoes. i wept for them. i lost sleep for them. you put it well though when all was said and done…honor my children. thank you! ~ Marnie

    PS. you had me at the amos lee quote! :-)

  25. 41

    says

    I hope to carry your words of love and wisdom with me on my journey in this life, through out the good and bad, the blacks, greys and yellows. How you express things is a gift, a rare and God-given gift, and I thank you for using it so that I may strive to be a better mother. Colors….brilliant. Now I have a new and profound way to see through the frustrating moments, realizing that we ALL of different colors at different moments and how joyous it is when those who love us can move past the frustration and see us through rose-tinted glasses. Thank you, again.

  26. 42

    Diana says

    Wow. This is an amazing post! Thank you! I do not have children, but I was once a child. And when I see children, I can only hope and pray they have parents like you who are willing to love them and learn from them. Thank YOU!

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