It could have been any town right here in New Jersey.  Newtown looks like my town – tree lined streets, a quaint downtown, a community with roughly 26,000 people, where everyone is a friend or a friend of a friend. It’s the sort of town where you arrive a few minutes early at school pick-up and linger a few minutes after just to catch up, share the latest news, enjoy a couple of laughs.

Even before the senseless tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I think we all knew things had changed since we were children - I can still remember saying goodbye to my mom just after breakfast during those carefree summer days, returning briefly for lunch, before heading out again, I rode my bike aimlessly around the neighborhood, often ending in nearby Allenwood Park where I’d meet up with friends. We’d spend the afternoon skipping around the playground, flying higher and higher on the swings, trying desperately to launch each other off the seesaw.  The ice cream truck came by religiously at 3PM and we’d somehow scavenger enough money to buy ourselves a neon orange push-up pop. 

And now, I am drowning in fear. And worst of all, little by little the innocence – that beautiful, indeflatable, innate innocence of our children - is being threatened.  Could it have been only last week that my little one – just 7 years old – debated with a friend the validity of Santa Clause versus the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy.  I listened quietly in the front seat as they laid out the facts like seasoned attorneys, reviewed, discarded and finally, these innocent, naïve, trusting children decided that logistically Santa couldn’t be real (and in their words he could never fit down a chimney), a giant, talking Bunny was just plain silly, but of course, the Tooth Fairy was definitely real.  Fairies, they said, with such earnestness, were undoubtedly real because who else could fill the world with such magical things.

So where is the magic?  How could it be that this morning, my husband and I had to have a conversation about the school massacre with our children? I desperately wanted to shield my babies – wanted never to utter a word so they wouldn’t know of this unspeakable horror. But we knew we couldn’t shield them forever, and yes, I do think some of their innocence shattered just a bit.  They actually said very little – the youngest asked the most questions and wanted to know how old the children who were killed were.  And we answered her honestly, reminding her that although there are bad people in this world, there are so many more good people and that she is surrounded by people who love her and do their best to protect her always. 

Still, I know with a sinking heart, that is precisely what those parents in Connecticut believed and told their children.  And it couldn’t stop the tragedy. 

Gone are the days when I can let my young children ride their bike for hours without reporting home. Gone are the days I can let them play outside without watching over them.  Gone are the days when I will ever feel comfortable saying goodbye to them and watching them head into school.

But still, I want them to retain their innocence. I want them to continue to play without fear.  I want them to love going to school each and every day.  So I watch as they pedal down the street. And I remind them not to stray from the front yard. And I tell them to always do their best and have a good day at school, then wave as they run into the building.

And whenever I have a chance, I will hug them just a bit harder for just a bit longer.

By Jenny Tananbaum.  Jenny Tananbaum is a writer, wife and mom to three.