In the middle of the afternoon, a couple hours into our drive to visit our sons’ grandparents in Pennsylvania, we pulled off the highway for a pit stop. Emily went in to pee. “N-e-w-t-o-w-n M-o-b-i-l,” Toby spelled out. It was exit 10 off Interstate 84.

When we lived in Kingston, this was the exit Emily and I always took, going in the opposite direction, to get to our classes in New Haven. The gas station where we’d parked is about half a mile from the Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Toby saw a sign on the door, green with white lettering: “We Are Sandy Hook,” it read, “We Choose Love.” He noticed that last word. That’s silly, he said. He wondered why they had a sign with the word “love” on the door.

How can a parent possibly explain? This brutal country! The bloody massacre of twenty first-graders, six grownups–I want my sons to remain ignorant of it for as long as possible. It wasn’t even a year ago, and we’re not a bit safer, and Toby, this sweet boy, had to play a game last year in preschool where he and his classmates competed in an everyone-hiding-in-the-closet game, seeing who could be completely quiet the longest.

Because sometimes people forget how important love is, I said. Other people want to remind them about love, so they made that sign.

Later, we stopped again, this time at the Ramapo rest area off Interstate 87. We sat at one of the booths. We ate McNuggets. I got out a scrap of paper, started jotting down notes.

“Can I write something?” Toby asked. Of course, I said. I flipped over our McDonald’s receipt. “I’m gonna write ‘You should love,'” he said. And he did: “YOU ShOULD LOVe,” in big tall letters. I helped him spell “should.”

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“So if we forget to love, we can just look through all the receipts, and look at the backs of them–until we find this one.”

I wrote that all down. He wrote “YOU ShOULD LOVe” again.

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Have you been thinking about that sign we saw? I asked. Is that why you wanted to write these words? Yes, he said.