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Since Friday, when I first began hearing the awful news from Connecticut, I have been trying, like everyone else, to grasp the scope of such sadness.

We each identify with tragedies in our own way.  There is often some connection that can personalize an event for us.

When the Oklahoma City bombings happened, I was a young mother with a one year old little girl.  The photo of the firefighter carrying little Baylee Almon’s lifeless body from the wreckage clutched at my heart and put that horror on a level that shook me to my core.  I cried all of the time, and couldn’t sleep for days.

The sadness that I feel after the Sandy Hook Elementary heartache comes from a very different place.  I have friends with little ones the same age as those beautiful children, and a little cousin who, as a kindergartener, took her very first school bus ride all by herself on Friday.  I am so sad to see all of those lives lost…little ones, and big ones.

All of those things would be more than enough to personalize this, but for me, there’s more.  The thing that I keep coming back to is the young man who did this terrible thing.

We keep hearing how most of these shooting sprees are done by young men, ages 15 – 25.  They are, by all accounts, brilliant…above average intelligence with such bright futures.

I have an exceptionally bright teenage son.

You’re not supposed to say a shooter’s name.  You’re just supposed to call him a monster and never acknowledge him as a person; but, today, I keep thinking about the families and friends of the Adam Lanzas or the Dylan Klebolds of the world.  Not only have they lost sons, brothers or friends; but, they must also spend the rest of their lives questioning themselves and deal with the unimaginable guilt.  Is there something that they could have done to prevent their loved ones from snapping?

I keep thinking about my own precious boy, Ben.  Ben is a freshman in high school. Throughout his early years, we struggled to get him to sit still and pay attention in class, to “calm down” and behave everywhere else.  His grades were fine, but he was disruptive.  At one point, we were told that he should be tested for things like ADHD.  Dave & I resisted, not wanting to label him, and because we worried that the recommended answer would be to medicate Ben.  Better living through chemistry, right?

The school tried to run evaluations for their gifted & talented program, but Ben wouldn’t sit still long enough to take the tests.  We were just told that we could have him tested again…maybe.

As Ben got older, we were fortunate to find him under the guidance of some wonderful teachers.

His fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Chamberlin, quickly discovered that Ben was capable of so much…he just needed to do things in a different way.  She could see that it was tough for Ben to sit still in a chair and focus, so she moved his desk toward the back of the room and allowed him to stand and work or kneel on his chair.  She also gave him jobs to do in the classroom and allowed him to help others when they needed it.  The difference was immediate.  Issues of behavior, incidents of disruption all but disappeared, and Ben’s already good grades became exemplary.

When Ben was in the seventh grade, we went for parent/teacher conferences.  His math teacher, Mrs. Mills informed us that she would be moving to a different school in our district to kick-start the Cambridge Academy program.  Not only that, but she’d also nominated Ben for the program, had written a recommendation and had turned that in, along with another teacher’s recommendation.  Ben needed to write his own application, but he’d already been accepted.

At the time, we didn’t know anything about Cambridge Academy; but, upon researching it, found that it was an extraordinary opportunity.

Different than a gifted and talented program, the Cambridge model is a whole other way of learning.  The kids are taught to think objectively, to reason and to evaluate an idea from several different viewpoints.  Very little class time is spent being lectured at.  The kids work in groups, doing projects, experiments and role-playing.  They are still subject to the district standards, but they also get tested by the Cambridge model.  Those test results are sent to Cambridge University and are compared to others in the program around the world.

Ben has flourished in this system.  We’re learning that the best way to keep him out of trouble is to keep his mind and his body occupied.  Playing football, going to the gym and staying active physically wear out his body, and the academics, along with video games, keep his mind busy.

Puberty seems to hit our home particularly hard, and Ben is just wading in to the hormone pool.  His sister, Isabel, has just emerged from the other side, and we survived mostly intact.  We are hoping to help Ben through the next couple of years with as much love, support and discipline as he needs.

And, deep in our hearts, Dave and I hold a silent message of sympathy for the families of so many other bright boys…boys who might have walked a very different path, if only they’d been allowed to stand in the back of a classroom or had been kept so busy that they dropped to sleep at night knowing that they were loved and were not alone.

We’re so quick to villify…and the things that these young men have done are truly terrible; but, they were little boys once, too.  They are our little boys…we make them, and we must help to guide them so that we don’t have to mourn them.