I sent my first grader to school the day after Sandy Hook. My six year old, my oldest son, my child who was the same age as those in that classroom whose parents couldn’t have fathomed such an atrocity taking place in their kid’s school.
Oh, did I love school as a child. I couldn’t sleep on that night before the first day, butterflies dancing in my stomach. I’m sure some of those butterflies were caused by nerves; I’ve been anxious my whole life. But mostly those butterflies fluttered around with thoughts of new teachers, the smell of books, friends, recess, and so much more.
My sons feel similarly. Oh, they have some grumpy mornings. There have been a few issues with other children not being nice. However, these two boys love school. Moreover, they love their school. They love their teachers and the staff. They love their experiences and their friends. I love that they love school.
When I put my son on the bus the very next morning after the murder of innocent children and their teachers in Newtown, I felt sick to my stomach.
On Valentine’s Day, we were out shopping when my watch dinged.
“Oh no,” escaped from my lips.
“Another school shooting.”
They didn’t even ask where. They didn’t ask anything. This is their reality. This is the reality for our children. Children go to school and are murdered by other children. Our kids know this, and yet they go to school every single day.
It makes my whole being hurt.
I graduated months after Columbine. I thought I had left the fear that penetrated our souls that April afternoon in 1999 in the last century. No. It followed us. It followed Gen X and then mutated, morphed into something we couldn’t have conjured up in our wildest nightmares—and we watched Stephen King movies at sleepovers that haunted us for nights and weeks afterward.
No, the slaughtering of our children in their classrooms even supersedes the scariest workings of
one of the best horror authors of our time.
My watch dinged again as we drove home in the dark. 17. 17 dead. I told them. They nodded. Their reality. We’ve allowed this to become their reality. I hate that for them. I hate that, for us as parents who send them off on buses, watch them walk in the doors after we drop them off, just hoping we see them again at the end of the day.
I want my boys to keep loving their school experience. I hope they continue to find teachers they click with, who challenge them to reach their potential. They’ve already been so lucky in this regard. I want them to be involved in their school experience, whether via sports or the band or other extra-curricular activities. I want them to look back at the entirety of their schooling experience with a fondness, not a gut-sucking fear.
I asked each boy if anyone mentioned Parkland at school the next day. Our older son stated that no teachers mentioned it, but a friend talked about it during an open period. Our younger son explained that his teacher brought it up and then went on to say that she made him feel safe by the things she said.
Listen, there’s a lot of work ahead for us as a country. We can’t keep letting our kids be murdered in schools. We can’t. It will require a multi-faceted approach that overhauls just about every aspect of the issue; it’s the only way we’re gonna get through this one. Until then, I will try to take solace in the fact that somehow my children still feel safe at school. I don’t feel safe sending them, but as long as they aren’t sitting in class and panicking all day long, I will give thanks.
There’s a lot of work ahead. There’s a lot of voting and changing in America’s future. I will hold on to hope that the change will happen before my sons leave the school system, that they might truly be safe at school—that their teachers won’t have to convince them they are safe at school, that they may someday just be safe at school.