It seems I've entered the phase of parenthood wherein I constantly have Play-Doh crammed under my fingernails.

Nora loves the stuff, but she can't quite manage to get it out of the canisters herself, so I give myself a multicolor manicure each day as I dig blue, green, red and yellow Play-Doh out of those little cans that never seem to want to give it up without a fight.

I'm also deep into a phase of having to closely inspect my shirt each evening before I toss it in the laundry basket to make sure all the tiny little stickers that Nora has applied to it during the day have come off. I've learned the hard way that certain stickers (looking at you, Dora the Explorer) leave a nasty residue if they survive through a wash cycle.

Recently I've found yet another phase of parenthood I've entered -- and I think this one might be permanent.

It's the phase where my heart freezes in place to hear about the tragic deaths of children. It's a phase where instead of indulging my news junkie-ness, I have to turn off the TV and limit what I read online when something like a massacre at an elementary school happens, because I just can't bear it. It's a phase where instead of hoping Nora will nap as long as possible, I wake her up early on days like last Friday just so I can have maximum time to squeeze her and tell her I love her.

Even before I became a mom, I would have been saddened by what happened in Newtown, Connecticut -- who isn't? But now I realize that a deeper sense of empathy is one of the many things that parenthood instills in you. Those kids who died could have been my kid. Those poor parents, rushing to the school and weeping, could have been me.

At 2 1/2, Nora is blissfully unaware and unconcerned with what happened – and I recognize that that's a lucky bit of timing for me, as a parent. I really feel for parents of kids who themselves are in elementary school and are trying to process the facts as well as the threat to their own sense of safety. (For parents still struggling with how to address the Newtown tragedy with their kids, here are some tips posted on recently.)

Compared with Play-Doh and Dora stickers, the pain of the tragedy isn't so easy to wash away. But another thing being a parent instills in you is a new source of strength, the potential to draw inspiration from our kids' ability to weather what happens to them (or near them) and move on as best they can. So I'm trying to do that. And I'm hoping that my next phase of parenting will be looking at the world with more compassion and with the hope that somehow I can be a part of making our nation a less violent, more loving place.