Along with the rest of the country, my emotions over the past five days have been all over the map.

And like many others, I have been fluctuating between an urge to marinate in media coverage and the desire to put my fingers in my ears and tune it out. To tune it out seems like a luxury I do not deserve, and yet I have heard others express guilt at their own grief, claiming that they don’t have the right to grieve, that the loss is not their own. On the other end of the spectrum are those that feel that the loss of one mother is the loss of all mothers, and that it is our responsibility to bear part of this unimaginable burden.

I find myself landing more in the camp of those parents and citizens who are sharing in this grief, and at least once a day I drift to the television or computer to attempt to absorb more of the horror and sadness.

No, this grief does not belong to me. It was not my first grader that was one of the many casualties of this nightmare.

But when I look at her infectious smile, with her trademark missing front teeth, when I hear her joyful laugh, and when I watch her going about her day like any other six year old would, I can imagine her as one of the victims. I close my eyes and envision her first grade classroom, her  beautiful teacher, and her innocent friends.

And I can’t bear it.

My toothless daughter before her holiday program

Many of us are feeling conflicted about reveling in the enjoyment of the holiday season, or we wonder, “Is it ok to be funny again? To laugh?”

As I go through my day, I find myself occasionally lost in laughter and lightheartedness, only to be violently pulled into another wave of sadness and fear.

I was shopping by myself at Target this afternoon, and began aimlessly perusing the dollar aisle. Within seconds, I was gleefully absorbed in the task of selecting stocking stuffers for my two daughters. Filled with a sudden surge of excitement and Christmas spirit, I made my way to the aisle filled with holiday sweets, and began tossing goodies into the cart for my six year old’s stocking.

I noticed a tub of green frosting, and realized with a jolt of anticipation that we still had to bake cookies for Santa! I pictured us busily decorating our cookies, one of my favorite experiences of the season, and all of a sudden I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach.

I remembered. I could no longer envision my family eagerly frosting sugar cookies without imagining the families whose favorite holiday traditions would be hollow this year, and perhaps for many holidays to come.

Tonight at my daughter’s elementary school, the three first grade classrooms put on their performance of Holidays Around the World. Aside from the obvious poignancy of a first grade holiday program, it was an impressive production, complete with elaborate costumes, set design, and entertaining music. My daughter was featured in a trio of singers performing a song about Ramadan, and when they took the stage, in direct contrast to the subdued, sweet practices I heard in our living room, the three kids belted out their lyrics as though they were part of a heavy metal cover band.

The audience roared with laughter, further spurring on our little performers. It was one of those moments when we could catch ourselves completely immersed in joy, forgetting the loss and pain, grounded in the present with our children who were brimming with life. After the program’s finale, the adults applauded wildly while the children excitedly hugged one another. They reacted to their triumphant performance just as first graders should. 

The program, designed by the first graders

I am certain I was not the only parent in the room whose eyes brimmed with tears at the end of the program. Our daughter’s teacher made brief parting remarks acknowledging the darkness of the previous week and the undeniable light of the children in the room. 

We were all so very grateful. And yet, still so filled with sorrow.

This morning we opened Santa’s special email to our daughter via the Portable North Pole. I wasn’t sure how she would respond this year at the age of six, but the expression of wonderment on her face was breathtaking as she nodded along with his message, as though he were speaking directly to her. I watched her silently, absorbing her awe-filled smile and feeling another wave of bittersweet emotion. It seems that right now, there can be no joy without sadness, that the two are undeniably intertwined.

Her precious reaction to seeing her message from Santa

In reality, I have never been a fan of actual rollercoasters. But I am unable to get off this one. And though it is gut-wrenching, I know that my ride will be significantly shorter than many others who are mourning during this dark time.

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