Wednesday morning started out as it always does in my household. My son and I were buzzing about getting ready for a predictably long day. He does ballet and, in addition to his regular class that runs until 8:55pm, he helps out at the studio to gain Student Service Learning (SSL) hours. So we each in our own way prepared for the marathon day ahead; eating a protein rich breakfast, laying out his ballet clothes, and strategically packing our bags to ensure the tight transition between work, school, and the trek to the studio went as smoothly as possible. And, as always, this well-rehearsed routine was accompanied by the white noise of our favorite news outlet’s broadcast running in the background.
Out of the mouths of babes…
We had each done this exact routine now for at least 31 weeks by my count, and there was no reason to believe that this day would be any different. But then, my son looked up at me after tying his laces and asked,
“Mom! What’s with all the school shootings?”
He was referring to school shooting that devastated a small, unsuspecting community in Uvalde, TX the day before.
Let me digress a bit by saying that I am an older parent and I was raised by older parents who believed that children should not be shielded from the fullness of life. So I have brought that philosophy naturally forward into my own parenting. Consequently, my soon-to-be 12 year old son is exposed to not just the beauty of life, but also some of its ugliness- at least what I believe he is grounded enough to handle (note I am not saying “mature” here).
I fertilize the soil in which he is grounded with love, compassion, empathy, and connection to help him develop a true sense of self, worth, and identity that is untethered from the vagaries of events happening outside of his control. And, by all accounts, my approach appears to be working as he is a well-adjusted and compassionate child who is thriving.
I must admit, however, I was taken aback by his question and his timing. There were so many things that bothered me about it including but not limited to: 1) the fact that the question bears asking, 2) the solutions are so obvious even a child his age could craft them, and 3) it forced me to examine my own blasé reaction to this heart-wrenching story.
I believe it was the latter that hit me hardest as it served as a personal litmus test of my own humanity. After all, I regard myself and my son as compassionate, empathetic, loving, caring, and kind individuals who have a high capacity to connect with the pain of others. And we routinely go out of our way to ease the suffering of others when we are able to do so. As my anime-loving son would express it, “It’s our Ninja way!”
However, witnessing the ongoing horrific aftermath of the events in Uvalde (and Buffalo… and San Bernardino… etc.) and immediately rebounding the next day into the normal routine of life was definitely NOT consistent with our way. Or was it?
The Evidence Speaks for Itself…
I had to challenge my view of what is happening within myself and my son as it relates to this issue of gun violence and the evidence didn’t look good. First I looked at our tolerance. Coverage of the story of the school shooting had been on a continual loop on our living room TV as background noise during almost all of our waking hours; with only minimal comment and reaction expressed between us about it. Had I gone numb to these tragedies? Not a good sign.
Then there are the Active Shooter and Shelter-in-Place drills that my 6th-grader is forced to endure on a routine basis. Why is any of this part of my child’s routine existence? This should not be considered normal in a civilized society that is not actively engaged in war. Again, not a good sign.
Finally, there’s the inevitable notices that are sent home with regularity from the School System about threats, some highly credible and others less so, to our County’s schools. My son has become so accustomed to hearing about the threats that he shrugs off the occurrences when I ask him about them with a “You know how it is.”
I search back to myself at the beginning of the school year when my son reentered a school building after 2 years at home and how I might have reacted then and I compare it to the embattled and worn out stance I take now. And I see that I am the frog placed in pot of cold water with the heat being slowly turned up. Apparently it has taken my son’s question to jolt me into awareness enough to jump out of the boiling pot.
A pause in our routine…
Without divulging the details of my conversation with my son, I will say, it was not routine. It was not rushed. We paused. We went deep. And we continue the dialog. I must do better so that he can do better.
What I will say about the state of play as it relates to gun violence in this country is that I too am sick and tired of “thoughts and prayers”.
We will continue to have senseless murder while we have insensible gun laws on the books. If a child is not old enough to drink, or buy certain cough suppressants for that matter, they shouldn’t be able to purchase a weapon of war. Let’s start with that. Just sayin’.
I am not trying to limit anyone’s right to the responsible use of guns; I just would like more measures on the books to create an environment where more babies and young children have a fair shot of living out the promise of their youth.
I will continue to pray that the hearts and minds of our lawmakers are opened to see a path forward to protect the most vulnerable in our society. I will continue to hug my son just a bit tighter as I send him out into the world each day. I will continue to thank God that I have been granted favor in that my son remains with me on this earthly realm while so many other parents have experienced loss. And I will continue to pray for all families, extended family, friends, neighbors, and extended community impacted by the devastation that gun violence leaves behind.
And now I am left with the question, what comes next for us all?