As any parent or teacher of a first-grader will tell you, it can be a magical time.
Those clinging tightest at the first day of kindergarten bound into the classroom the next September. Simple sight words mastered over the summer blossom into sentences and then paragraphs, even chapter books. Come December, writing neatly with pencils becomes old hat (but still makes so little sense next to the allure of crayons, markers and glitter glue).
For parents, the magic of first grade reveals itself in the everyday details of life.
It's the moment you realize the challenges of toddlerhood have fallen away and the trials of middle school seem a lifetime away. You revel in it. No problem seems so insurmountable—yet. Don’t worry honey, we can get some tape and fix it, here, see? All better now.
But the true magic of first-graders is that they still believe, unshakably so, that we can fix everything.
Intellectually, yes, they get that a shattered glass cannot hold water again, but everything else, the big stuff—the scraped knee, hurt feelings, fear, frustration, the dark of night, the scary wind—we can fix it all.
Teachers, moms, dads, grandparents, we all have powers, powers that keep them safe, and they believe in us. They believe, briefly, wonderfully, fervently that the world is there to protect them from harm.
This is what rips parents up inside, even when we aren’t confronted with heart-stopping evil like that which came to Newtown on Friday.
It's that we know this is a lie. We can't protect them forever—if we ever could. And we know that we must not be the first to show this.
So we continue to love all our children and love fiercest the ones still innocent to these facts.
Our youngest daughter, Geneva, is 6.
She sat in a first grade classroom on Friday, almost exactly 40 miles west of Newtown, in a chair probably identical to those for the first-graders of Sandy Hook Elementary. Twenty children, ages 6 and 7, gone, killed by gunfire.
That afternoon as I helped my colleagues on this story for Newtown Patch, Geneva jumped off the bus steps with her older sister, all excited and happy over something, as she usually is until her ravenous hunger hits and then all bets are off. That view, from the bus, is one I love to watch quietly through the window before opening the front door.
There is no beauty like a joyful child unaware they are being watched.
I quickly shut off the news and did what all parents do. I pretended everything was OK.
And because she’s 6, she believed me.
Mothers and fathers of those slain, I can only offer what helped my family when my parents lost two of their children, my brothers, Mark and Kevin Ryan, and when my sister-in-law’s brother and our childhood friend, Andy Sperr, was killed in the line of duty as a New York state trooper.
It isn’t these words. They are just words and therefore not enough. It was that a community stood with us in those dark moments. It's a comfort I know we all carry, still.
So I stand with you. All of Newtown stands with you.
The world is standing with you.