This morning, I yelled at my son for losing a magnet.
He and his sister have been playing with the magnet set in a way that is downright careless, and as I am getting together lunches and snacks and gifts for the children and teacher at N's dance class so that I can get everyone out the door on time to do an errand at my son's school, I ask them calmly to put the set away. Instead, they continue to play, and what they are building collapses and scatters across the floor in three rooms. Taking stock of the damage, they inform me that a piece is unaccounted for, as if I am supposed to produce it myself.
"FIND it," I growl, unsympathetic.
My son proceeds to "look" for it in his usual half-hearted way, staring at the floor while he paces, examining unlikely hiding spots (e.g. up the wall behind the curtains). After about five minutes of this, five minutes more we have now spent not preparing to leave the house, I lose my cool. I roar his name. I'm not angry about the magnet, but about the lack of care; I expect that when my children lose something, especially something they prize, that they make a concerted effort to find it, instead of leaving the job of finding to me.
"I hate you," he tells me, defiant.
Ever before he utters these words, I feel badly about yelling, especially since I've found my temper shortening these days, with the stress of the holidays and joblessness. I reply, as evenly as I can, that while I'm sorry to hear that, and that I know my yelling was not an effective conflict-resolution tool, it doesn't change the fact that he had to learn to be responsible with his things, because the things we are trusted with only become more and more important. He stomps away, and the minutes tick by; we are losing critical minutes if I'm to get him to school on time.
After a few minutes, I call him back into the room. I apologize for yelling, admit that yelling was not a useful way to address the problem, but reiterate my concern about the importance of being responsible. I manage to extract a reluctant half-hug before he buckles himself into his carseat, and feel hopeful that perhaps we can smooth things over.
But then I log on to the internet and there are children dead in Newtown. First graders. Kids who are my son's age. And all I want to do is go pick him up and tell him that I don't care about the magnet.
My heart aches for the community of Newtown, Connecticut--not just for the families, but for everyone who is mourning their loss tonight. I've been unable to dislodge the lump in my throat that's been there since the early afternoon. This could have been my son's classroom.
There will be lots of discussion in the coming days and weeks about gun control. About mental health services and proper identification and care of the mentally ill. About lockdown plans for schools. And rightfully so. We need, desperately, to talk about those things.
There will be less talk about how we are raising our children, and how we treat each other.
But the reality is that we, too, are responsible. Not necessarily for one gun-wielding maniac, but for complicit acceptance of a culture in which violence is the norm. If we don't speak up, we are OK with it. If we can't act out of love ourselves, even when love is difficult, we are OK with it. And if we aren't teaching our children responsibility, for themselves AND for the welfare of other human beings--as I saw so many parents at my former university tell their children that they weren't responsible, for grades, for assignments, for whatever--then we perpetuate the culture that hosts the shooters of Columbine and Newtown and Aurora and Virginia Tech.
It's time for everyone to take a stand. Not just against gun ownership policy. And for stronger school safety procedures. But to promote a culture in which we love aggressively. In which we are all responsible for each other. In which finger-pointing is not the answer. In which all of our words can be powerful weapons, and in which we use them wisely. Because it really does take a village, and not just to raise a child.
I'm holding the community of Newtown in my heart, grieving with them. Imagining losing my child, my six year old, to a random shooting at school makes me sick. There are no words for this kind of tragedy, this kind of loss.
And together, my son and I will look for the lost magnet today. Because it all matters.