Shoes on My Porch

When I came home from work yesterday, I tripped on my childrens’ scattered shoes on the porch. This happens nearly every day, but today was different. As I bent down to pair the small shoes, I thought about not having those shoes on my porch. I thought about what it would be like if my children didn’t come home from school like the 20 children in Newtown, Connecticut.

I started crying, grimey sneakers marred by playing tag and jumping on the trampoline, in my hands. What would I do with these shoes if my babies weren’t here to fill them? It’s a thought so unthinkable….so unimaginable. I quickly dismissed my morbidity and repeated the mantra, “I must remain hopeful, do not let despair consume me.” But I do feel despair. My heart, along with everyone I speak to, is crying out for understanding, justice, reasoning, closure…and there is none. None. I am only an outsider to the tragedy. As a mother, a teacher and a human, I am absorbing all the news of our world and I’m frightened. I’ve been having nightmares. But I get to wake up. The victims’ families will deal with the nightmare every waking day of their lives.

After tragedy, there’s a need to help. I want to donate, lend a hand, make phone calls, cook food, help rebuild…only none of that applies now. I can’t bring those families their children back for the holidays. I can’t fill that empty place inside of them. I’ve decided there are two things I can do. The first is to pray. Not just say, “I’ll pray for you,” like some sort of grievance catchphrase. No, I mean truly talk to God and ask his strength for those families. To help them find whatever they have inside of them to keep moving forward, to find some way to get up each day, eat breakfast and just be. Pray that the leaders of this nation will finally see the urgency in making laws to help stop gun violence. Pray that my own fears and anxieties do not keep me from letting my children go into the scary world, allowing them to become strong, independent citizens.

The second thing I will do is to stop wasting time with my children. To stop worrying if marker got on the tablecloth when they color. I won’t use wasteful phrases like, “I’ll play with you after I do the laundry.” There may not be an after. I can’t abandon life’s mandates, lord knows no one wants to eat off of filthy dishes. But I need to spend more time with the blessings in my life. Because they are what make life. Not a well-made bed or a clean car. Seeing my son smile. God, he has the best smile! Or listening to my daughter’s “band of the week,” regardless of what I think of them. Or playing Mancala with my youngest, even as the possibility of a warm dinner looms near. I need to be more present, more aware, more focused, more appreciative of us being together.

For if there is nothing else I can do, I can honor those children whose lives were tragically cut short by appreciating my own children with everything I have. Another hug, one more bedtime story, baking cookies just because. I need to cherish what I can never imagine not having. Unlike before, today I am overcome by urgency because I realize more than ever that time is fleeting. Time is a gift never fully appreciated until it runs out. I am embracing my time with my babies. Not just at scheduled times or events planned, but all the minutes in-between.

I am so grateful for the shoes on my porch.

Corinne Harney is a mother and a preschool teacher in Montclair.

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  1. Lovely. I feel the same way.

    The other thing we can do is push our elected officials to stop slashing mental health programs. We need more transition programs for 18 and up.

    No parent should have to keep their special needs child a secret.

  2. Corrine, you are a wonderful teacher and this piece was lovely. My daughters were lucky to be in your care in preschool. XO

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