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Feeling for Orlando families — and how they showed love in the smallest ways

Crowd members hold candles during a vigil downtown for the victims of a mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub Monday in Orlando, Fla.
Crowd members hold candles during a vigil downtown for the victims of a mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub Monday in Orlando, Fla. (David Goldman / AP)

I wanted to write about the ire directed at parents when bad things happen involving their children.

I considered writing about all the reasons my husband and I struggled with our decision about where to send our three children to school.

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I thought I might write a note to my friends who just had a beautiful baby boy, letting them know that 1) They're doing an amazing job already and 2) It gets better.

I had so many thoughts about so many things — the myth of summer vacation for kids with two working parents; the "joys" of camp. But none of them seem important now. In the face of carnage in our country at the hands of a hate-filled shooter, every thought I have feels trivial. And disrespectful.

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What does it matter where my kids go to school? What matters is that I get to pick them up today from school.

Who cares how many nearly identical emergency and contact information forms I had to fill out in order to enroll my children in camps to cover the summer break? Over the years, we've had no need to use the emergency forms, and that's a blessing.

There's nothing like real-life horror unfolding on national television to remind us of what's really important. I've been doing my share of that since a crazed gunman killed 49 people in a nightclub Sunday in Orlando, Fla.: taking inventory of what and who matters. I celebrated a birthday the day before the massacre, at home with my closest loved ones, eating and toasting and singing the Stevie Wonder version of "Happy Birthday." If I could paint a picture of who and what matters, my backyard on that day — full of laughing children — would be it. I wish I could freeze-frame that scene. And that feeling.

But it's hard to linger there, lovely as it is, because my heart is broken. I grieve for my LGBTQ friends who, in 2016, still can't feel completely safe anywhere. I grieve for the Muslims I know who must again deal with their religion being blamed for the actions of an individual. I grieve for humanity, as it seems to deteriorate before our eyes, like an aging parent.

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For the most part, though, I can't stop thinking about the mothers and fathers of those 49 people murdered.

Mass shootings, for most of us, have unfortunately become a reprehensible, yet regular, part of the news cycle. But for the parents of the dead, it is anything but. I cannot imagine the fresh hell of these last few days for them. My brain cannot fathom the pain.

News accounts meant to humanize the list of shooting victims make me think mostly of their parents.

Held hostage in the bathroom, while people died around him, Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30, texted his mother: "Mommy I love you."

Before Stanley Almodovar III, 23, went out that night, his mother made him a tomato and cheese dip and set it aside for him in the refrigerator.

It seems like such a small thing — a dip — but the idea of it brings me to my knees with sadness.

So much is made of a parent's responsibility to clothe, feed and shelter children, to educate and discipline them and bring them up right. But the meat on the bones of parenting is in the details — cutting the crusts off sandwiches, braiding and unbraiding hair, endless games of tic-tac-toe, pizza on Friday nights, soothing away bad dreams. It's reading and rereading the labels, planning the birthday parties, finding the lost puzzle pieces, staying up late to wash the favorite T-shirts, remembering "Cheetos" not "Fritos." It's all the money spent on piano lessons and at the ice cream truck, all the time spent sweating at soccer games.

It's moments and moments of making tomato and cheese dip, just because you know how much Stanley loves it.

For whatever reason — bigotry, hate, easy access to guns, a threadbare mental health system; pick one or pick them all — the parents of 49 sons and daughters are mourning the loss of all those future moments. And I am mourning with them.

Tanika Davis is a former Baltimore Sun reporter who now works as director at a communications firm. She and her husband have twin 6-year-old sons, a 4-year-old daughter, a perpetually messy house and rapidly appearing gray hairs. She also needs a nap. She can be reached at tanika@thehatchergroup.com. Her column appears monthly.

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