From a mother with no answers

by Janelle Hanchett

This week…well, it’s all about Friday, right?

I haven’t been able to write my “week in review” posts for the past two weeks. My first reason involved final exams. My second, most recent reason involved a distinct feeling of having nothing to say.

I read about the tragedy in Connecticut right before leaving for work Friday morning, around 10am. I cried for most of the 20-minute drive. When I arrived, my phone rang and it was my mom, and I knew what she wanted to talk about, and we both cried and she said she wanted to pick the kids up, RIGHT NOW, from school. I was already thinking it, but comforted both of us by telling her it was an early release day, meaning they would be home within two hours.

They would be home within two hours.

Probably the most beautiful words I’ve ever written.

And when these tragedies hit I’m always a little surprised by the way people fly into action. People start announcing and declaring and standing for something. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – just that I can’t relate.

Like gun control. “We need gun control.” Truthfully I don’t know anything about gun control. I know I lived in a country for a year that didn’t have guns (well, you could have a gun if you lived in the boonies and hunted but it had to be visible in your car and you had to be on your way hunting or home and it the whole thing was tightly regulated), and I know I felt safer there, walking through the “bad” areas of Barcelona, worrying (sort of) about getting robbed, maybe at knife-point, but not about getting shot.

A couple times my Spanish friends asked me “Why do children shoot children in schools in America?”

And I recall having no answer.

But guns were never allowed in Spain. I don’t know if it would work here, with all the guns already in existence. It sounds nice in theory, but could we pull it off? I don’t fucking know. These questions feel too big for me, for little old me out here in northern California, trying hard just to grasp my little life, let alone national problems.

And then there’s the mental health people. “We need better services.” This morning, on NPR: “We have a mental health crisis in America.” I’m sure that’s true too. But I don’t know anything about that either. That feels equally huge.

Morgan Freeman was quoted saying that these disturbed people who are going to kill themselves anyway do it in these horrific ways due to the guaranteed media blitz. They become household names. They become that monster who killed rather than some nobody who died in a basement. I’m paraphrasing, but his words made sense, and I believed them, and his argument resonated with me as the most. They want to stick it to the world. They want to show the world that’s “hurt” them, ignored them, wounded them. They want to go out with a bang.


You win, you fucking asshole.

But mostly I’ve got no opinions on these big issues, particularly in the immediate wake of these tragedies. Maybe I’m an uneducated American. Maybe I’m lazy. Or maybe I’m just tired.

I’m equally struck by these parents who immediately announce these defined “approaches” regarding how they’ll handle the tragedy with their children: they absolutely will not tell their children (to preserve their innocence) or they WILL tell their children (to teach them about whatever issue they feel is important).

As you may have noticed, I don’t really have a clearly defined approach to parenting. I like manners. I dislike whining. I will not tolerate racism, bigotry or hatred. I think gay marriage should be legal.

But aside from that, I pretty much never know “just what to do.” I don’t have some over-arching parenting methodology that governs my decisions. And I never have.

By the time I saw my kids on Friday they already knew. Mac had told them. I don’t know why and I don’t know how, I just know that they knew, and we talked about it a lttle. I kept looking at Rocket because he’s seven, and in first grade, like the babies who died. He said he knew he was safe at his school. I shook my head to cast out the thought of anything less than agreement of his innocent conclusion, and thanked God it’s winter break, so my kids won’t have to go back to school for three weeks.

Then we watched The Hobbit.

On Saturday we drove to my family’s Christmas celebration and on the way we listened to the President’s speech and watched him wipe away tears, and I cried and so did Mac and when I looked back at Ava she had tears streaming down her face.

And I guess I’m glad she knew.

But as usual I had no words of wisdom, no deep insights, no “take-away.” We all just cried, and kept on living our lives, as we must, I suppose.

But Friday night I brought Georgie in our bed and she didn’t go back into hers.

And when I saw this I felt like there would never be another complaint exiting my lips as long as I live, though I know that ain’t true.


And then there was this moment, and I wondered if the mothers of the children who died had already bought their kids’ special holiday outfits.


And when Georgie sat alongside her grandma to sing Christmas carols and Rocket was dancing and Ava singing, I thought “I’ve got the best deal of anybody in the world.” And maybe my heart exploded.


When I was fourteen years old I saw “Shindler’s List” in the movie theater with a couple friends. Afterwards, when I got in the car with my mom, I began weeping. I remember like it was yesterday, trying to wrap my head around the gas chambers, the children and mothers and fathers scratching at the walls and screaming in those rooms, falling into oblivion because, because why? Because they were Jewish. I was in mental turmoil and physically disturbed: I didn’t sleep for days. I felt stripped, abused, violated. My brain refused to process it. It simply could not do it.

I remember the agony of the realization that such a horror occurred. It was real.

But it couldn’t be real.

But it was.

Maybe I wasn’t ready for that truth. Clearly I didn’t have the “tools” to make sense of it.

Then again, maybe that’s right where we’re supposed to be: in the dark grey murk. In the chaos in the hell in the despair, in the place that cries for meaning, for purpose, for just one moment of logic, reason, sanity.

Maybe it’s best that we refuse to turn it into some neatly wrapped package, some approach or theory or “stance;” that we refuse to distill it into a sentence: We need this. We need that.

Not that we lie down and forget it, figuring “what the hell, nothin’ we can do,” but that we face it with the bravery of everything we’ve got, even though we’ve got nothing, fighting until our last breath to find something like an answer. So when it comes, we’ll be ready.

Ready for what? I don’t know.

Change, I guess.

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”

I’m trying, somebody please tell me how.

All I know is my love, for the ones that came home within two hours, and the pain in my soul, the aching truth of our existence, the place where there are no answers, where the Jews died and the children died and there’s me, little old me, hungry for a place to settle my feet, and my mind.

Sure that if I hold on, it will come, and it won’t all be for nothing.



  • Stacie

    I find myself in that grey murky place alot. Actually, everyday trying to raise my kids. The other day brody and I were talking about the new baby. I mentioned that he is going to be such a great big brother, he responded “yeah, well, sometimes I’m not a very good example.” My heart sank, but all I could say was “sometimes I’m not either, but as long as we forgive each other and keep trying, we’ll be alright…” Little does my four year old know, he is the one teaching me along the way. So blessed to have them around long enough to keep trying.

  • doni

    Oh, it’s slightly comforting to read this and know another mother feels the same way I do. I can’t even talk about what happened to those babies in CT and I refuse to watch anymore of the the news coverage, it’s just all too much. I wish there was someway to take even just a fraction of the parents heartache away and I hove no idea how they can even cope at all. The only comfort I have right now is cuddling with my almost 4 year old son in my home, where I can pretend nothings happened and everything is a-ok. I spent Friday night awake watching my son sleep and all I could think of was how those children should be at home in their beds with their families and how unfair it all is…anyhow, thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  • Cat

    I totally lose myself sometimes in a hopeless sadness that I cannot do anything about the awful things in this world, I wouldn’t even know where to start. Then I try to remember to just look at what I’ve got, and focus on that instead, on being the change, although most of the time I’m not very good at that either, because I’m so tired and worn down. One day though, it’s the small things that add up to create a bigger picture, our small things, the things we leave behind. Sometimes it scares me to think what kind of world I’ll be leaving them in, but that’s one that makes my mind explode as well, so I try not to dwell on it.

  • Eddie - The Usual Mayhem

    Beautifully put. I have no answers either. I’m just stumbling along hoping that I’m doing well enough by my own kids that they won’t make the news that way.

  • julia adams

    “…a distinct feeling of having nothing to say” That’s how I’ve felt all weekend thank you for putting it in to words. And that’s how I felt when I went to the Holocaust Museum in DC. I came home, curled up in the fetal position and just layed there in the “grey murky” a place where you know that your awareness of their pain and your remembrance of their existence is…something, somehow important but wondering if there is someway you could do the same without inviting it in consciously.

  • Bread

    Once again, you have me bawling. This is the best thing I’ve read about the shooting so far. Your words, and your babies, are so beautiful <3

  • GG

    So honest and real. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, however murky they may be. The world is a murky place, the only light that shines is that which we shine outward from within. You do that here, beautifully.

  • jo

    The rest of the world looks on and wonders why America allows its own people to do this to their children and then we remember that one person does not represent the whole country. Every parent is sickened by the grief and every parent feels guilt at the relief that it is not their child. I feel guilt that I have not talked to my children about it. I have let them find out from the news. I cannot hide them from the evil that is done nor can I discuss it with them. I am stuck with nothing to say.

  • Mom of 5

    Janelle, thank you again for such an amazing heartfelt post. As always I completely agree with you. One of the things that puts me to sleep at night, is knowing my babies are safe and warm in their beds. After I have checked on them, and kissed their sweet heads, pulled the blankets over them, then I can lay down and fall asleep. All I could think about last night is how will those Mommy’s sleep tonight…or ever again! How will they just be able to breathe again with out it hurting. I want so much to be able to take away the pain that I can only imagine they are feeling right now. Instead of making this a Political/Religious “thing”.. we need to make this a Human thing. This has nothing to do with how a person chooses to believe. First…before politics,..and before religion,..we are human beings. ALL OF US! We are designed to love. It doesn’t always happen that way, but I believe if people chose to love first, it could be better. Love is a Powerful thing. Sadly…so is hate. Think if everyone loved more. The power that could come from that alone. Honestly one of the hardest things I have done yet, was putting my kids in the car and dropping them off at school on Monday. I didn’t think I could leave them at the door and drive away. I did it….but it took every ounce of courage I could find. I cried the whole way home. I’m still crying…

  • Penny

    I wrote the rant below on my own page on Saturday. I ALMOST high jacked your page and posted it there, because I am so damn disappointed that the point has been lost once again. I wanted some damn answers, from some intelligent people and it clearly was not in the media.

    Truth be told, the only answer I can come to is that we are horrible care takers of our children, elderly and mentally ill. Horrible! As a society, we should be ashamed!

    “I don’t often do it, but I’m on a rant! I have some questions, damn it!

    I am so tired of hearing about gun control when these tragic acts of violence take place. It seems ludicrous to me that that the professionals and general population has not asked the question “what is going on with our young men?” In every case of these shootings, young men have been the perpetrators. From mentally ill to our brightest and best, young men are killing themselves and our youth. Men in their young twenties, whose brains are not yet developed. (A boys brain does not fully develop until 25)

    When do we as a society address the fact that our young men are obviously not getting what they need to develop into compassionate, good men? Instead we say, “gun control.” To me it seems like the American way… read “quick fix” to a much larger, pervasive problem within our society. By slapping the “gun control” debate on the tragedy, we skirt the issue again and never truly take responsibility for the development of our children. We feed them junk. We fill their brains full of violent, unrealistic images. We sexualize them at an early age. We push them into daycare for 10 hours a day as toddlers because we have no alternatives, and then drug them when they are not developmentally ready to sit in a classroom. We tell them they are bad kids and have a “no tolerance” rule, for typical boyhood adventures and mishaps. Their role models, are young basket ball and football stars who are breaking the law regularly, and still we let them play because they are talented. We took away all form of mentoring except Boy Scouts and then sit back and say “I don’t know what is wrong with kids today.” Come on people!

    What happened to any child joining a team at 12, when they are ready to take it on, instead of the current system where kids can play to a certain age, and then only the talented can play. “Sorry you want to play and experience a team, it’s only for the few and elite. You are not good enough” is the message they are given. What happened to the real food that provided the essential nutrients to a child’s developing brain? What happened to schools that were rich in multi-sensory activities and large motor development. What happened to Kenntnis, which is so important for boys developing brains? How do these young men grow into men, with out opportunities to conquer their environment? Where is the mischievous “Tom Sawyer” side of boys, acknowledged and celebrated, not demeaned? Where are their role models?

    Can we stop giving our kids lip service please? Let’s celebrate the stages of child development instead of trying to fit them into what we think it should be, or what is easy for us to deal with. Let’s demand GOOD, WHOLESOME, CLEAN food. Lets remember what it was like to be a girl or a boy. Let’s help our mentally ill, instead of ignoring their cries for help and incarcerating them. Let’s acknowledge that there is a problem and it has little to do with the “quick fix” of gun control. Ideas anyone?

    Okay… I’m done. If you made it this far, thanks for listening!”

  • Tina

    Thank you so much for this post, I can only say that i feel the same way. I don’t live in the USA, so this is all very far away from me, but it seems like every other week you hear about shootings like this. My thought is, that there SHOULD be gun control, but that this would not be the solution to the problem. It wouldn’t magically stop things like that from happening. The problem lies much deeper, in the way our society has changed. And that won’t happen to just banning people from buying guns. But on the other hand, kids shouldn’t have access to guns. And I think in some parts of the states it is just all too easy for children or teenagers to get their hands on one. Anyway, I don’t have a solution for anything, I just feel for the parents left with a big hole in their lives. And also I feel sad for the kids that think the only way to get noticed is to kill. A person must be dead inside, who could end the lives of innocent little children. What kills the souls of these killers?

  • T

    Okay. I have been lurking your site for a few days now, not because I am a mama, but because I am a teacher, who is always looking for ways to relate to the parents of the children who are entrusted to me every day.


    As a teacher, as a “child-free” woman, I lived the Newtown shootings as Victoria Soto. I imagined what I would do if a madman burst into my school, into my classroom. I cried with each parent who picked their child up early that day. I cried with each parent who beamed with pride, even as their own tears spilled, that night at my school’s Holiday concert. I thought about each innocent life that goes about their day, every day, under my watch. I thought about the “difficult” kids; the ones I sometimes wish whose parents would take a long, long vacation, so I could have one too. I thought about my “good” kids, the ones who I think to myself every day “If every kid in this room was like _______, you wouldn’t have to pay me to work.”

    But, when push comes to shove, I love each and every one of those kids, totally, completely, even the ones who give me migraines and make me glad my husband and I do not have kids; even as I hold some of the others a few minutes longer, breathing in their scent, relishing my time with them, because face it, my cat just doesn’t have that sweet, beautiful, innocent smell.

    And no matter how many times they want to make me rip my hair out, no matter how many times I beam with pride when they FINALLY master that difficult task or simply remember to use their manners or wipe their own snotty nose, I wonder if I should store their cots somewhere in the room so that my closets are clear. Just in case. As The Little Prince says: “You never know.”

    You never know.

    As a teacher, I would lay down my life for any one of those children.

    As a woman, I would lay down my life for any one of those children.

    I post this, hoping that your readers will hear my words. When your children are entrusted to another’s care, no matter how difficult or how wonderful they are: THEY ARE LOVED.

    Victoria Soto is proof of that. I pray that if this situation were ever at my door, I would be proof of that. That I would leave this world knowing that even one of those lives might continue because I laid down my own for them. Because my life is beautiful, is full of love, is full of joy. Theirs is only beginning.

    Each and every life is precious. Each and every life means the world to someone. I wish to God that every child in my class felt as loved as your three children are; I hate that I know that some are not. But I hope that, if only for the time they are with me, they know how I feel.

    I pray that they will never truly know.

    Thank you for your blog. It is raw, it is honest, it is beautiful. Blessed be to you, and yours, always.