Here we go again. I am sitting on the couch watching the coverage of the Florida School Shooting and wondering how much I need to share with my girls. The struggle is the same. The ‘how much should I share’ struggle the same. Do I let her watch the coverage? How about the live feeds from the students inside the school? The ones where kids are climbing over the dead bodies of their schoolmates, crying and screaming in terror. The ones where the backpacks are strewn about and blood dots the school papers that have spilled out. How much should I share with my kids about school shootings?
It was 3 o’clock then the news hit my television. I, of course, saw the first reports on social media. But it was not until I turned on the television that I understood that this was yet another horrific one. Another scary ass shooting that is taking the lives of our innocent children and the adults charges to protect them. Another Sandy Hook. Another Columbine. Another end of ‘It can’t happen here.’
Mortified and standing in the middle of the living room, remote in my hand, images flashing across the screen, I heard the door and watched my beautiful, amazing 11 year old daughter walk in the house. I almost lost it completely as the image of parents returning home after claiming their child’s bodies, tears streaming down their faces, hearts shattered into a million pieces, never able to see their child walk through the door again, flashed through my mind. To walk into their kid’s rooms again, clothes strewn on the floor, bed unmade, hair brushes and make up strewn about on their dressers, never to be touched again by them.
I quickly turned off the TV and wiped my eyes so my daughter would not come home to tragedy. I listened to her talk about her day, sharing that she has a math test the next day, telling me she was the only one who handed out Valentine’s in her 6th grade homeroom class. I drank it in. This moment that I could lose in a moment if a gunman with an AR-15 assault riffle walked into her school and took her away from me.
When we were done with our normal after school conversation, I decided to get real. I had to know that she knew that there was a such thing as a school shooting and that my schools were preparing her as it seems inevitable that these will continue.
So I asked. ‘Katie, what do you know about school shootings?’
‘They are stupid and should not happen. They are just… stupid, Mom.’
At that time I told her about Florida and turned the TV back on.
She and I sat together and watched. We watched kids running out of the school, hands up. We watched the images of kids hugging each other, tears running down their faces. We watched paramedics working on injured kids on the sidewalk.
I did mute and cover her eyes of the live stream from kids in the building while the shooting was happening. Even I can hardly watch that. I could not do that to her.
We talked. A lot. I detail. I told her that, when she does a lock down drill at school, which our schools do several times a year, she was to follow her teacher’s instructions. She should try her best to stay calm. She should get her cell phone and call 911.
But if she was in a hallway, she should jump into a closet or a classroom. She should run away from where she thinks the shooting is happening.
She started to cry. I started to cry. The knowledge that someone could walk into her school and take her from me with a single bullet from a gun meant to shoot 45 bullets in less than seconds made me cry with anger.
So much anger.
By the time the tears had dried and the hugs had loosened it was time to go get her younger sisters from the bus stop. I decided on the way there to hold off the same conversation with my other two until the next day. When I knew a four day weekend was upon us and we had lots of time for lingering questions.
Unfortunately the thought also crossed my mind that a shooter could walk into their school tomorrow and I would always have the guilt that I did not talk to them in detail that very night.
When I do talk to them, it will be without the TV, though. I don’t think an 8 and 10 year old need to see the trauma. But I will show them photos of the kids leaving the school. I will show them escape plans posted on their schools website. I will tell them the same thing I told my oldest.
Pay attention during drills. It can happen and your best defense is being prepared.
My 11, 10 and 8 year old have to know that. My 11, 10 and 8 year old have to know that anyone can buy an assault rifle before they can buy beer. That anyone can walk into a school and unload shots into them despite posting on online sites that they are a violent person with an obsession to kill. That we can’t take liquids on an airplane because of one person but that kids dying in schools means nothing.
I, as a parent, have to know that everyday I could lose them. At school. At any time.