NEW YORK (AP) — There’s snow on the ground in Londonderry, N.H., nearly 200 miles to the north of the still-raw slaughter at a Connecticut elementary school, and dad Eric Heenan found himself in a fuss with his 9-year-old son over boots.
“It’s not cool to wear snow boots to school,” he said Monday, “and then I was like, you know what, God forbid the last conversation we have is this. There but for the grace of God go we.”
Parents around the country are letting the small stuff slide, indulging their kids just a little bit, as relieved as Heenan to have them safe only a few days after a gunman claimed the lives 20 students and six adults in Newtown.
In Safety Harbor, Fla., close to Tampa Bay, Christie O’Sullivan feels it with her two boys, 5 and 6, the latter the same age as as many victims.
She returned home Friday after Adam Lanza’s rampage and suicide, to find a sink clogged by toilet paper and dirty tissues all over the floor of her bathroom as she madly tried to clean for a holiday party.
“I had to just stop and appreciate my messy bathroom,” she said. “Having a 6-year-old myself and imagining him seeing this horror in his life crushes me. Just the very thought of it makes me break down into tears.”
Child experts urge that parents worried about the reaction of their children to the Newtown tragedy maintain routines. But at least two acknowledged O’Sullivan’s loving act is perfectly acceptable as she and other parents work through their own grief and anxiety.
“It’s a very understandable, emotional reaction that we have,” said Emanuel Maidenberg, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles. “The function is really helping parents to deal with our sense of helplessness.”
Added New York University’s child and adolescent psychiatry professor Glenn Saxe: “If there is any time to be a little more flexible about routines and rules in support of our children, it is now.”
Lanza, 20, opened fire Friday after shooting his mother at the home they shared. The first two of his tiny dead, Jack Pinto and Noah Pozner, were buried Monday.
Cortney Green’s son isn’t 6, like Jack and Noah. He just turned 9 — three years younger than his older sister — and got to eat leftover birthday cake for breakfast on Monday.
“Other times when I’ve allowed an indulgence it is the recognition their childhoods are rapidly going by and figuring an occasional caving in does little harm in the big scheme of things,” said Green, an English instructor at a community college in Columbia, S.C. “This time it was definitely Newtown and my apprehension about sending them off to school, knowing they are without me most of the day,” she said.
The hours away from her three children, ages 8, 5 and 3, had single mom Tara Bordelon in Alexandria, La., breaking one of her rules over the weekend: no kids in her bed. The social worker couldn’t wait to gather them under the covers for popcorn and a movie. Her tears came as two fell asleep on one shoulder and the third on the other. “I just want them to be innocent,” she said. “He didn’t hurt just those families. He hurt everybody.”
Heenan and his wife were on the fence a week ago about Christmas gifts, an iPod Touch and a Nintendo DS for his fourth-grader and a younger son, age 7. “Now, we’re kind of like, all right. It’s Christmas and thank God.”
Robin Vilchez, 30, of Manhattan and his wife agree. There might just be a Wii U under the tree for his kids, ages 7 and 4.