My kids are safe. It's just after noon on Friday, and they're home, watching "Madagascar" and eating mac-and-cheese. My 5-year-old son remembers the Christmas present he made me in his kindergarten class and races to place it under the tree.
Some 2,500 miles away, the souls of at least 20 children are resting. They won't find out what Santa Claus brought them on Christmas morning. They won't eat mac-and-cheese, or watch "Madagascar." Their classmates won't feel safe today.
I didn't hear about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School until I signed on to Twitter, later than usual, about 9 a.m. Friday. The first photograph I saw from the scene showed a young girl, maybe 9 or 10 years old, with light brown hair, crying as she and her classmates evacuated the school. "My daughter's hair is the same color," I thought.
I don't know that I've ever wanted to hug that child more than I did at that moment.
As I read about the horrific attack in quiet Newtown, Conn., I did some quick math: It had been just three days since a fatal shooting at a busy shopping mall near my hometown. It had only been a couple weeks since police locked down a campus in my children's school district after hearing reports that a man with a gun had been wandering around the neighborhood.
I thought about calling my daughter's school, but then remembered that the campus is locked during school hours. I let the thought go, and said a silent word of thanks that I would be picking the kids up from school in a few short hours.
It's easy in parenthood to fool yourself into thinking you have control over your children, especially young children, and their fates. We choose their names, tell the barber how to cut their hair, pick their clothes, select the best schools, urge them to eat their broccoli and help them memorize their spelling words.
Reading about the shooting in Newtown reminded me that I am not in control of anything ever. And that is frightening.
My children don't know that a gunman stormed into an elementary school, and that seems best for now. As difficult as the story is for adults to comprehend, I can only imagine how bizarre it would sound to a 5- and 7-year-old who assume everyone in the world is looking out for them.
Besides, I'm not ready for their questions. Normally, I can talk my way around the "whys," even when I don't really know "why." Even if or when investigators uncover a motive for the Newtown shooting, I'm not entirely sure that explains why a tragedy of this proportion happened. Reaction to the shooting has already dusted off debate about gun control and appropriate funding for mental health services in the United States, but those are conversations for adults, and today I'm thinking about my kids.
Before today, when my kids have asked me why other children do the mean things they do - bully them on the playground or call them names - I've told them it has nothing to do with them. It's about the other child and the pain they are feeling. My kids seem satisfied with that answer, and I hope it's teaching them empathy rather than fueling their anger over the injustices they suffer.
We might not talk about the tragedy in Newtown anytime soon, but they will witness other horrors in their lifetimes. What will I say then? Honestly, I don't know. For now, I promise to love them and teach them as best I can how to navigate this messy, mixed-up and sometimes scary world.
Jessica Keating is an editorial writer and a member of the editorial board. Readers may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.