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White Knuckle Parenting: On Newtown

When our collective heart is so broken, how do we carry on?

I wanted to write about Christmas shopping this week. It was going to be frivolous and silly and fun. Then an evil thing happened—a deep, angry evil thing that ended with the deaths of 20 children and six of the brave teachers and school staff who tried to protect them.

I know that life must go on—joy must go on—but frivolous and silly and fun seem really hard right now.

As a parent, I am intensely rattled. When I heard the number and the ages of the children killed, I was stunned and horrified. Children. My God. Children. What kind of a monster can look at a child and aim a gun at him?

People are broken about this; I am broken about this. We want to find something to blame, something that caused this, something we can fix, so that it won't happen again. We say that if it was the gun laws and we fix the gun laws, this won't happen again. We say that if it was a culture of gun violence and we make that culture gentler, this won't happen again. 

We say and wish so many things, but what we are really saying is that we want those 26 people back. We want this to not have happened.

There is a lot we don't know about Adam Lanza and his motives. There has been speculation that he had Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism. We talk about mental illness and what his mother should have done.

The sad truth is that it is so much more complicated than all of that and it is nothing we can fix so easily. Adam Lanza seems to have been unbalanced and determined and had access to a lot of firearms. It is a bad combination.

With so many unknowns, there are still things I know as a parent. I know that I sent my children back to school yesterday, trusting that the educators in charge of them will do everything in their power to keep them safe. I know I believe that most people in the world are good and that I have to keep believing that if I am to be able to muster the courage to let my children leave the house every day.

I know that even if Adam Lanza had Asperger's, that there is no link between autism and premeditated violence. I know that individuals with autism are much more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violence. I know that my child with autism is not capable of an evil like this and I know that I, as an adult with Asperger's, am worried about what this speculation will mean for people like me. I know that even if Adam Lanza had Asperger's, it was not autism that caused this, but instead something deeper and darker inside him.

I know that I told my children about this horrible happening, but also that I turned off the television and radio all weekend. I didn't tell them that if an unbalanced and determined person wanted to hurt them, that he could. I told them they were safe and I looked for resources about how to talk to kids about violence.

I was at one of my kid's schools volunteering in a classroom a couple of years ago when they conducted a surprise lockdown drill. The teacher locked the door, covered the windows, turned out the lights and had all the kids sit quietly against the wall. Someone came by and knocked on the door, then rattled it violently. It was grim. Sadly, it is also necessary.

I hope the president was right when he said Sunday evening, "Surely we can do better than this." I hope we can. I hope we can really look at gun laws and rights and safety. I hope we can really look at mental health services and how difficult it is to get help for people who need it before they become a tragedy. I hope we can make sure our schools are as safe as they can be and that our children don't feel threatened when they walk into a classroom.

I don't have the answers, but I know what I am going to do.

I will hug my children. I will thank their teachers. I will remain vigilant about my kids' safety as best I can, as I have always been. I will make sure they are loved and feel safe. I will try to put acts of kindness and joy into the world. I will send thoughts of love and peace to Newtown and the shattered community and families there. 

Mostly I will try to trust that most people in this world are good. I will try to trust that there will be joy again.

Jean, a.k.a. Stimey, is a freelance writer who writes a personal blog at Stimeyland and runs an autism-events website for Montgomery County, Maryland, at AutMont. You can find her on Twitter as @Stimey and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/Stimeyland.

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