Last night I had a “date” with my 9 year old son. A beautiful thing, this – time alone with an extraordinary human who I love more than imaginable :) We were walking to a restaurant in town, and he began to tell me about the drill that he and his fellow students had done at school earlier that day. School drills are common place: fire drills, earthquake drills, etc… so I was expecting to hear something along this plane…not so.
He began by telling me that his new principal had told the students to do something really stupid – “She told us that if we were out on the playground and someone was on campus with a gun that we should lie still on the ground and pretend we’re dead! That’s just dumb! If someone has a gun and we’re just laying there, then he’ll just shoot us anyway. I would run!” he said, and my heart hit my feet.
We walked in silence for a moment as I processed what I had just been told, that the drill they had practiced that afternoon (which meant our 6 year old daughter had participated as well!) was not for fires or earthquakes – but for what the students should do if a gunman was ever to step foot on their campus and begin shooting. This is so horribly and despicably wrong…that our young children should have to be exposed to this kind of terror, to be “prepped” on how to act if they ever had to face this kind of terror. The stresses of society are challenging enough for us adults to manage – and we have years of life experience to help us process the violence, bad behavior, and all the nonsense that we encounter, read about, or witness, on a daily level (though in truth, most adults aren’t capable of dealing with the stresses either because there are simply too many)…but our kids?
It is a terrible thing to have to engage in a conversation of this magnitude with a young child. And yet the sad, unfortunate truth is, that our children need to be informed and taught, so that they might be better able to protect themselves from an event as despicable as this, should it occur. Last Christmas, my husband and I were on the east coast visiting family, and we made the drive to Sandy Hook to pay our respects and to honor those who perished, as well as those who had lived, through that terrible event. We left our kids with the grandparents and made the nearly 3 hour drive. What we saw in that town was heartbreaking, and exceedingly difficult to absorb, as you can imagine. Our hearts, and the hearts of so many – who traveled from all around the world to leave their condolences – were broken. It is a dire breach of trust to cause harm to the harmless, the innocents, to our children. When my husband and I were kids, there was nothing like this in our vernacular, or in our imagination. School shootings? What?!!? But now, they are common place – small blurbs over the airwaves, almost casually mentioning the loss of lives from some distraught person (sadly, nearly 100 percent of the time, male). My son told me after we spoke that he wished he had been born back when his dad and I were growing up so that he wouldn’t have to learn about this stuff. “Why are people walking around with guns anyway?” he wanted to know, and all I could answer was – “I don’t know.”
Our children are growing up in a remarkable time, but a time of much violence and uncertainty as well. My husband and I don’t have all the answers – but what we do have is the ability to try our best: to be good strong role models; to do what we say, and act as we speak; to treat one another, and others, with loving kindness and respect; to strive to be our best and expect our kids to do the same; to take responsibility for our actions, our goals, and our intentions; and to enjoy one another and our lives! No matter what, our kids know that we will be there for them, no matter, and I can only hope that this helps to alleviate some of the anxiety and stresses that must impact them, day to day.
Our world is a rapidly changing world, and there are times when it can literally make one’s head spin. The conversation between me and my son was hard – I had to tell him some rough stuff, graphic, difficult, ugly stuff – and I watched his young self absorb what I was saying, and store it away in that beautiful mind of his in case he ever needed to retrieve it (god willing, that will never happen…to any parent, ever again).
But the cool thing, the great thing, about kids is that they can take things in and then move on…go ride a scooter or chase the dog, laugh and play as though nothing has happened. By the time he and I got home to eat our meal, our discussion about the school drill was finished and he was telling me about some new music app that he wanted to try out, and I was just happy and grateful to be sitting there with him. I remind myself daily to take nothing for granted, and count every day as the blessing that it is. Bless us all, and all of our children…and may we someday learn to tend to one another with the grace, kindness, and love, that all living beings deserve.