1. I’d heard some news about a shooting in Connecticut just before leaving to go get Leah as her half-day kindergarten was ending. At that point, they said two dead, sounded like probably a domestic dispute. Tragic, horrible, too common, really bad that it was at a school. It was only a little on my mind as I stood and talked to Natalie’s mom, whose house has just been ravaged by a stomach virus. The bell rang. The teacher stands at the door and only lets the kindergartners out when she sees an adult they belong to. It’s a small class, this is a small town. She let Leah go and waved at me. Nora stood there waiting, didn’t see her mom. Natalie’s mom said she’d watch Nora until her mom got there, but I said no, I got her, she was scheduled to come over to play with Leah at our house. Another wave from the teacher, all good—it’s a community. We all know each other and each other’s kids. I walked the two of them back to our house and listened to them talk about how Mrs. Claus makes clothes for kids because boys like Santa don’t know how to sew.
2. I knew the bulk of the real story not long after, reading about it just before getting in my car to drive into the city for a meeting. Lots of uncertainty still, but the number was in the high twenties, at least half children, maybe more. I drove east on Irving Park, listening to details on the radio. I passed several grammar schools along the way, public and parochial. My mind went to all the very worst places. I thought of the moments of terror, what they saw, teachers who risked and surely lost their lives, parents waiting, the conversations with the police. I should have pulled over.
3. We had previously planned to go to Christkindlmarkt downtown tonight, so we did. Being together would be just the thing. We took the blue line in, and there, our trip started with a profoundly mentally ill woman wandering the train, talking to empty chairs, making vaguely threatening comments. Our kids tend toward the sheltered side (go ahead and judge me, I truly don’t care) and were confused and frightened. We told them she was sick but wouldn’t hurt us. She’s fallen completely through the cracks, and while guns are everywhere, even she’d have had some trouble getting one. And I’m no expert, but I don’t think that kind of illness is usually violent. She got off a couple of stops later, talking to her old suitcase.
4. We arrived downtown and it was so, so crowded. I had Danny and Sharon had Leah, and the two pairs of us got separated by a few feet in the insanity. Danny got very upset, and even though I told him I could still see Mommy, he worked himself up into big, heaving sobs. In many important ways, he’s a very, very young eight. The world doesn’t always turn smoothly for him. We got back together at the corner of Washington and State, right where the CBS2 news studio is, along with their 50-foot street television which was, of course, covering it. He stopped and stared and read the closed captioning, his first exposure to the story. He saw the still image of the screaming mother, the film of the gurneys being loaded into ambulances, the ashen face of a cop at a press conference. I told him a terrible thing had happened somewhere far from here, and we could talk about it if he wanted to, but that he shouldn’t watch. (Go ahead and judge me, I truly don’t care.) But he was captivated by the images, like we all are. I picked him up and carried my big third grader across the street, partly because I wanted to hold him close, partly so he’d be facing away from that fucking TV. He laughed. “Daddy, I’m big enough to cross the street!”
5. At the restaurant, the kids tried our patience, and tried it hard. Too much walking, too crowded, too long to find a cab, too late for dinner, too much homework, too little sunlight, a million reasons. We handled it more calmly than usual. I’m going to try to handle it that calmly all the time. Back on the el for the ride home, my kindergartner, my Leah Bee, without a care in the world, fell asleep on my lap.