When my children had children, I wanted to offer them simple, precious, and wise advice about parenting. I toyed with all sorts of word configurations, and ended up with a phrase I'd heard long before, since buried in some out-of-the-way brain cells:
"Just give them happy good mornings and safe good nights," I advised Jill, Amy, and Nancy, as each of them became a mother.
It seemed possible. It seemed absolutely attainable, a twinned wish that sums up what every mother's child needs.
And now - after Dec. 14, 2012 - that simple anthem seems like pie in the sky.
The day before the massacre in Connecticut, one of our granddaughters turned 10. Such a wonderful age, with one foot in childhood, another poised for what they now call the tween years.
When I couldn't reach Emily by phone to wish her the usual corny heaps of grandmotherly birthday love, I sent her an e-mail.
I reminded her of 10 funny, touching markers on her road to this double-digit age, and told her how much I loved her.
And then I pushed "send."
In Montclair, N.J., Emily would go to school with my message, cupcakes for her third-grade class - and all her robust joy at being 10.
And the next day, just a few states away, children younger than she were being murdered, while others were being marched out of their school, eyes closed to shut out the carnage, hands on the shoulders of the child ahead. They were walking into a world that will never, ever be the same for them.
The contrast - the horror - the awareness that yes, there-but-for . . . left me weeping all of that horrible Friday. I wept for those little ones, for their parents and the unspeakable grief they face, and for all of us. We are somehow all victims of that gunman.
Inevitably, we think of our own families.
Three of my seven grandchildren are 10 or younger - and they are hostages to fortune in ways undreamed of by my generation.
We elders of the tribe remember elementary schools where the term lockdown was unknown. Where the worst things children had to face - at least those lucky enough to live reasonably well - were schoolyard bullies and yucky cafeteria food.
And yet these grandchildren of mine are already schooled in 9/11, cyber-bullying, and an awareness that malls and movies, planes, and yes, their schools are danger zones.
They scan headlines that no child should, watch news footage that makes those of us many times their age shudder.
The photo that will haunt me forever is one by Shannon Hicks at the Newtown Bee, on the front page of so many papers Saturday morning - this portrait of adults leading a line of kids onto a parking lot.
Those children's faces reflect bewilderment, confusion, but also nonchalance. Yes, something was happening, but what was it? So many little ones marching unknowingly from one life to another.
One small girl in sneakers with jaunty red laces is sobbing. A bespectacled little guy at the front of the line, jacketless, has his striped muffler around his neck over his shirt, a sign, perhaps, that a parent wanted to make sure he was bundled up protectively against a December morning chill.
Yes, we can put those mufflers around their necks and those mittens on their hands.
We can answer their questions about whether God wears glasses and how fast a gazelle can run.
But we cannot, I now understand, give them that ultimate gift of happy good mornings and safe good nights.
None of us.
Not even a grandmother who wishes so desperately that she could.