After the Sandy Hook shooting, December 14th is forever remembered the world over as the worst of times, as it should be.
Except when it’s not.
Here in Newtown, there was a huge push in the days following the shooting to rename the horrific massacre 12-14 to save the stigma from being directly associated with Newtown and Sandy Hook.
But you never heard that from me, as I ignored such pleas because December 14 remains, even now, one of my very brightest days.
December 14 is my girl’s birthday.
Sadly, Kid2 was forced to forfeit her birthday because of the horror the day bestowed on her hometown, to children she loved, to families and friends she knows too well.
She removed her birthday from Facebook, begged family and friends to ignore it, and refused to acknowledge a birthday at all. She cringed at reminders, and outright denied salutations. Cards left unopened, gifts on closet floors, text messages and calls unreturned. Privately friends reached out, afraid to acknowledge that they knew her birthday is forever painted in a nightmare of memory, but wanting her to know she matters to them. That she matters at all.
She left for college committed to forgetting that 12-14 meant anything more than a horrid reminder. She was anxious to forget she shared the calendar, and was committed to creating a new day, if at all possible.
But this is what I want you to know: this kid represents all that is good and powerful and kind. She is, in fact, Newtown. And she does indeed matter and I want everyone to know it.
She lives and breathes positivity. She loves her home, her town, her family, friends and community. She lifeguards her summers away and coaches little swimmers on a recreational swim team, coaxing them from one end of the pool to the other, with a celebratory happy dance and plenty of Swedish fish and Jolly Ranchers. She talks tough teen stuff with middle school girls and gives them hope and aspirations for kinder days ahead. She drives a pick-up and blasts country music wearing sweats and cowboy boots. She can change the oil, brakes and water pump in her car and yours, all while singing at the top of her lungs. She can arm wrestle and whup your ass while her nails are drying. She’s 100% muscle and 100% heart and 0% filter, which can often get her into trouble when inside thoughts become audible.
She cheers obnoxiously loud for her sisters and brother, without necessary knowing the rules or rhythm of the game. She is always the loudest for the player or swimmer most unlikely to win. She has the heart of a Grinch, no patience for drama and emotional boo-hoo, yet cried uncontrollably when a boy she loved broke her heart. She once texted me from the bathroom of a swim meet: “I am NEVER having kids. Not EVER.” She eats more than a man. A big man. I live tweeted her first date. When a competing swim coach announced, perhaps a bit too loudly, girls weren’t as strong as boys, she immediately challenged him to pull-up competition. “Let’s do this now, sucker,” to the delight of her 12 and under squad.
She’s a collegiate athlete majoring in mechanical engineering and going to Namibia next year to build … I don’t know what. Despite all odds, she’s a really good driver. She’s a complete slob who rarely showers and hasn’t combed her hair since 2010 – if then. She’s read precisely one book (not assigned) her entire life, but can’t remember the title or the plot. She can’t follow a movie or stay awake much past 10:00 pm. She’ll only watch shows if someone gets hit in the head with something unexpectedly or if Will Ferrell or Melissa McCarthy stars. The dumber the better.
I’m trying to introduce you. I want you to meet her. I want you to know her. This is what she’s like.
She’s a terrific, annoying, and loyal sister. She is a steadfast friend and confidant. She is prettier than should be allowed and gets much too much attention for her looks, which fails to compare to quality of her character. She thinks farts are funny. Bloopers are better. She insists Elf is quite possibly the best movie ever made. And she’s a bit bad-ass as well, and quite the realist.
Wearing her green bracelets around campus, her lab partner asked her what’s up with all the green. “Sandy Hook.” No recognition. “Newtown? Sandy Hook School?” The partner stared blankly. “The shooting?” Still nothing.
“Seriously? No clue? Nothing? Dead kids ring a bell? Nope? Well, then you’re a fucking asshole and I’m out!” She stormed to the prof’s office, demanded a new lab partner and got one.
When she asked to watch Breaking Bad, because everyone at school was talking about it and she couldn’t chime in, I begged her not to. “Please don’t. I just don’t want you to see how dark and horrid the world can be.”
“Really? Mom, seriously? I already know.”
Smiling is her favorite. Still. She is brave, strong, funny, beautiful, and brilliant. She is above all kind, loud, slightly inappropriate, and always optimistic. She aims to be the kind of person you want to be around. And she is.
On that horrific day in December two years ago, it was her 18th birthday. And when the tears slowed and sobs somewhat subsided, she tattooed a Sandy Hook ribbon on her hip, high enough to be hidden, yet clearly visible from her home away from home, on the pool deck or lifeguard chair.
A permanent memorial of the darkest day on the brightest December 14 light that continues to make my life brighter, and now perhaps yours.
Happy, happy birthday to my strong, beautiful, kind, bad ass, not-so-little, little girl.