Precious gifts

The McGaughey abode was filled Saturday afternoon with plenty of pink. After all, when a girl celebrates her eighth birthday, you’ve got to expect pink to figure into the equation in a significant way. (The pink I was most enthusiastic about, naturally, was the pink frosting on the chocolate cupcakes. I could have very easily become the heroine of the “Pinkalicious” story.)

Grace officially turns eight in a few days, but earlier always seems better for a birthday party than later when Christmas is quickly creeping up. Besides, it allows for a little more space between the hyperactivity and excitement that accompanies a birthday party and the incredible anticipation brought by Santa’s arrival. Either way you schedule things, though, December has become a wild month, when you figure in all the holiday shopping, plus our daughter’s piano and dance recitals this year.

Still, despite the frantic nature of this time of year, I welcome its wildness mainly for the joy our children experience. And, as I’m sure parents around the world know more than ever, we mustn’t take anything involving our kids for granted.

The news of Friday’s massive shooting didn’t strike me at first until later that evening, after Grace and Zachary had gone to bed. I had seen people post news about the Newtown, Ct., tragedy on Facebook that day, but didn’t want to know more than the headlines. In short, I guess I wanted to remain numb to it all at first.

A person would have to be heartless, however, to not feel any type of anguish and empathy given what transpired, and as I began to learn more about the horror of what took place I felt a complicated mixture of emotions —sorrow, concern, shock, anger … and, as in the case of so many moms and dads, the need to hug my children a little bit tighter.

On Saturday, it was reported that 20 kids — all first-graders — were killed in the massacre (one of them, as it turned out, was a 7-year old girl named Grace). In addition to the identities of the victims, we also were given portraits of true heroes who gave their lives to protect the kids of Sandy Hook Elementary School. There was Victoria Soto, a first-grade teacher who hid the children in her classroom before the gunman burst his way in and shot her. There was the principal, Dawn Hochsprung, always sharing immense pride in her school via Twitter, who was reportedly shot while lunging at the assassin.

On Saturday evening, I watched highlights of a press conference given earlier that day by Robbie Parker, the father of one of victims. He spoke eloquently of many things – the love for his deceased daughter, the need to pray for the many affected by the shooting (including the family of the perpetrator), the need to not let the incident define American society. It was, quite frankly, amazing to hear this man speak so well at a time of what must be overwhelming grief.

Many are talking about what we should do regarding gun control, and how to better help those suffering from some type of mental illness, following Friday’s horrific events. Those are, of course, important conversations to have.

On Saturday, my daughter was given some great gifts from friends at her birthday party. She got friendship bracelets, a kit to make things from duck tape, a Barbie, something called a Xia Xia, something else called a Squinkie, an incredibly soft pink blanket … that may or may not be all. But the best thing to come out of the afternoon was getting to be a part of the sheer delight Grace experienced over the course of a couple of hours.

Twenty sets of parents were cheated out of that same opportunity a day before. If providing our children unconditional love isn’t the most important lesson we can take from Newtown, it’s hard to know what is.

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