(Attached is a letter my son (C. Walter Nichols IV of Kerhonkson, NY) wrote to his 5-year-old daughter after the Newtown tragedy. If appropriate, please share it with your readers — C. Walter Nichols III, Westport.)
Today I hugged you extra hard. Harder than normal, in fact. You pushed my head away annoyed that I had used up my allotted public display of affection at the front door of your pre K school. “Dad,” you huffed, stamping down your snow boot with exploratory defiance and effervescent independence, “Enough. I already know you love me.”
You might have even rocked that eye roll we’ve been working on!
In your hands, some crystals to show your friend and the bagged lunch I made for you. On your head, a woolen cap with two eyes that makes you look like a rabbit. That’s the picture of innocence I want for you.
At some point in your fragile years the news will seep into the cracks of your awareness that just a few days before this day, a classroom of children was tragically upset in a small , seemingly safe town. Among the stomach turning aspects of this story to all of us parents right now is that it could have been any town in America. Including ours. Those of us with access to TV and the internet are hearing the details of these sweet little kids. What they looked like. Their names. What they dreamed of being at the tail end of the journey they were just starting in school.
You will learn that little children lost their lives in what was supposed to be just about the least dangerous place. Chances are good their parents gave them a smooch and hug that morning, just as I have, with just as much love, and then sent them in. And then went to their jobs or home.
You will also learn that in the face of very bad people, very good people sacrificed their lives to mitigate the horror while it was happening. Other very good people have spent lives, careers, trying to keep you, and me, and everyone safe and healthy in the first place.
But it’s a big job.
Whenever we get to facing it, this is an event that will take an extremely long time to fully process, yet we all will have to do it at some point because it is part of the human condition, much as we wish it wasn’t. And it’s complicated.
My instinct is to cover your ears and eyes and fiercely preserve your innocence. To let you be scared just of monsters under your bed, not monsters in your school.
I want you to skip over to the dramatic play area, or sit crisscross applesauce in your learning circle, or paint with friends, or see how high you can swing on the swing set before Miss Jen scolds you, or pick over the broccoli I made for you at snack time.
I want you to know that almost everyone you meet in your life will at least be good, some really really good, and that they will care to treat you the way you should be treated and the way I hope you treat others. I want you to know that school is a safe place.
My heart aches for the parents in Connecticut who do not get to squeeze their little children ever again and that, Hattie, is just one of the reasons you are suffering the apparent indignity of my overt love for you this day and every day hereafter.
As if you were not already the most insanely precious person in the world, Newtown, Conn., is a stark reminder.
And that is gonna cost you an extra hug …