Avoiding the Silence: A lesson from Sandy Hook

Image“Not now! Not now! Not now! Not now! Not now! Not now! Not now! Not now!”

Ava managed to take those two monosyllabic words and turn them into a sort of whimsical playground song, singing in random notes like a beginner on a piano. Maybe she picked it up at school; I imagined her poor teacher, at her wits end in a classroom full of 3-year-olds trying to shake her down for an early afternoon snack.

“Not now!”

My daughter is at that age where she sings nearly everything she hears and repeats like a broken record. For the most part I’ve learned to zone out these tunes as I’m mentally unwinding from my day, avoiding crap drivers in a rush to get home and wondering what dinner will be. In other words I’m listening but I’m not listening, and if you’re a parent you know exactly what I mean. We hear what we want (or need) to hear until our kids say what would be considered the equivalent of a red flag.

“Not now! Not now! Not now…bitch!”

Yes, my daughter really uttered the word bitch like she was straight out of some John Singleton movie. No, I wasn’t proud to hear such a word thrown about so carelessly as if my toddler suddenly turned OG and started rapping for Sug Knight (but full disclosure – my wife enjoys relaxing to hardcore rap).

“Because good little girls aren’t supposed to use words like ‘bitch.’ That’s not nice… I know what daddy said, Sweetheart. No, that wasn’t of me to say, either. And, no, daddy won’t tell Mommy (if you won’t).

I thought back to this very scenario when I was able to fully process the Sandy Hook shooting last week, when the initial shock wore off and the gravity of the situation hit the pit of my stomach with a thud. As far as tragedies go, this one really ate away at me. I knew that I’d want to express myself in some way but at the same time I didn’t want to write up some knee-jerk reaction about how we need gun control, more awareness regarding mental health issues or the death of the Republican Party.

When the proverbial shit hits the fan it’s so easy to start pointing fingers. And part of what our president eluded to during his speech last Sunday was that in order for our society to function better, in order to make children’s lives better and safer, we need to really look within ourselves and truly ask whether we could be doing more.

As I began to gather my thoughts and write this piece, I listened to one of my co-workers, who began to cry while explaining that she still struggles with the fact that she and her husband couldn’t adopt a child many, many years ago, especially during the holidays. She has dedicated much of her professional life helping children in need.

I explained to my coworker that as a father who, for the most part, doesn’t have a clue, I’m thankful knowing that there are people like her in this world. Because as much as my or any other parent’s ego might argue, we just can’t do it all by ourselves; it does take a network of people who care in order to help us with our children. And as a dad I have to faith in my fellow man that all will be okay, that the network of help will be there when I drive away from the school. And in some cases like at Sandy Hook, it takes people in that network who are willing to die in order to keep our children safe.

I know I need to listen, really listen, during one of my daughter’s whimsical rants. Or when our 15-year-old talks about her new cheer team’s routine before an out-of-town competition. Or when our son has a story to tell about his day at work. Or when our 1-year-old wails in the middle of the night. After hearing the bells toll this morning for the 26 lives that were lost, I’ve come to realize that it’s not the noisy interruptions during the game or the crazy singing on the way home from a long day’s work that should leave me frustrated as a dad with four children.

It’s the deafening silence of them not being there that really scares the crap out of me.  And for that I offer my humble condolences for those parents that lost someone at Sandy Hook.

@monkeycblog is written by Phillip Cortez. The children’s book,  Night Rhythms, is available at Barnes & Noble, and at Amazon

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