Opinion

One year later, parents should never forget Sandy Hook

On the one year anniversary of the Sandy Hook shootings, Ian Mendes remembers how precious life and parenthood can be.

1SadDad-December2013-iStockphoto

Photo: iStockphoto

Follow along as Ottawa-based sports reporter Ian Mendes writes about the joys of raising daughters, Elissa and Lily, with wife, Sonia.

I will never forget where I was on the afternoon of December 14, 2012.

For any parent who learned about the fatal shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary school in Connecticut on that Friday, it was like a punch in the stomach. I stared at my television screen in disbelief — completely unable to comprehend the words and pictures on the screen.

In many ways the shootings at Sandy Hook were like the terrorist attacks on 9/11 for parents in North America. It was a rare and unthinkable tragedy that made us stop cold in our tracks. And just as we praised the firefighters and policemen who rushed into harm’s way on September 11, we were heaping those same accolades on the teachers who did everything to keep their students safe while a crazed gunman entered their school.

Read more: Talking to your kids about tragedy >

I was only 22 years old when the shootings happened at Columbine High School, so I wasn’t looking at that event with a parental lens. It bothered me for a couple of days, but then life just moved on as it often does for young people at that stage of life.

But for several weeks after the Sandy Hook tragedy, I felt this knot in my stomach. Christmas came and went last year, and the holiday season seemed slightly muted and less enjoyable. I kept thinking about those families who had lost their children because we had kids who were the exact same age. In some ways, it felt inappropriate that we would exchange gifts and sing Christmas carols in the shadow of this unspeakable event.

The one thing I vowed was to appreciate my kids more after the events at Sandy Hook. I don’t think I’ve ever hugged my daughters or told them I loved them as much as I did in those days immediately following the Sandy Hook shootings. As parents, we can all admit there are days when having kids feel like a burden, but parenthood felt like a gift in those days after the shootings.

Read more: The heart of a mother > 

But in life, we tend to gradually lose perspective when events like the Sandy Hook shootings disappear into our rearview mirror. This happened to me just last week, when I completely lost my temper with our daughters over a minor incident. I was trying to convince them to come see a Christmas lights show, but our oldest daughter was complaining that it would be too cold outside. Our youngest daughter was just in a generally fussy mood and neither of them seemed interested in this family outing.

I shouted at them and told them how ungrateful they were for not being appreciative of our hard work to plan fun activities for them. I was really upset because instead of taking a sleigh ride, sipping hot chocolate and looking at Christmas lights, I was stuck listening to two kids whine and complain.

And then something connected in the back of my brain. Christmas, kids and the month of December.

I remembered Sandy Hook.

I remembered that those parents would give anything to hear their kids whine and complain again. At that moment, I realized that having two whiney and fussy kids is actually a gift — not a curse.

Suddenly, our crisis and standoff wasn’t so important. I defused the situation and actually apologized to my kids for losing my temper — something I had never done before. We ended up going to the Christmas lights show and having a magical evening with a sleigh ride and some hot chocolate. It’s amazing what a little perspective can do.

I know that I lost that perspective at some point over the last 12 months, and Saturday’s one-year anniversary of the worst school shooting in our lifetime is potent reminder that we need to keep our priorities in check.

As moms and dads, we owe it to the parents of the Sandy Hook victims to remember how precious life and parenthood can be.