I try not to make promises to my kids that I can’t keep. I screw up plenty of other things about parenting so keeping a promise is one thing that seems to be within my control. When my 4th grade daughter recently asked me if I could promise her that she will be safe at school, I stalled. Tried to mute my nerved up gulp- in vain.
I lied to my kid.
I said yes. Made an empty promise that I cannot keep. I added just a little bit more collateral damage to the post-tragedy flotsam that’s always adrift in the wake of a storm. I doubt that I am alone. Parents are probably lying straight-faced to their kids left and right these days because there is NO way that some of us can send a scared child to school everyday to learn and have fun. Fear isn’t exactly conducive to a learning environment, you know?
Admit it. The first time you went to a movie after the Aurora shooting, you cut a glance briefly to the side door once inside the theater. You scoped out the nearest emergency exit a little more closely instead of wondering if the butter calories were worth it on the popcorn. Maybe nabbed a seat closer to the aisle than you ordinarily would.
The truth? I have no idea if my kids are safe at school. I only know that the every single adult in that building is doing her very best to make it so– just like the adults at Sandy Hook Elementary last December had been doing until suddenly their best wasn’t good enough anymore. So to answer my daughter’s question truthfully to the universe? No. I can’t promise you’re safe. Not today. Not tomorrow. And most likely not the day after that.
The truth of the matter is that I can’t promise the bus ride home will be safe either. Buses are a bully’s venue of choice these days. The equivalent of a drunken bar just waiting for a brawl to spring into action. Come to think of it, I can’t promise that the bumper cars at the state fair are safe. I can’t promise that the storm warnings are always embellished. I mean really, if you can conjure it, it can happen. The earth could conceivably open up in a pissed off yawn and swallow us all whole right now. Possibly.
But here is one thing I can promise you. If we don’t do something differently soon, nothing will change. Insanity (n): doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
When I was little, I fell out of a ceiling loft and landed hard. Hard enough to knock the breath out of myself and learn the weird truth that seeing stars isn’t all hyperbole. My mom sprinted upstairs to check on the origin of the thud that shook the house.
I had broken no bones but definitely the cardinal rule of climbing navigation in general. I tried to navigate the ladder rungs facing out. You’re supposed to face in– with your nose to the ladder itself, one-stepping your way back to the floor with both hands white-knuckled to the railings. That would be the safe route. That would be the route of a cautious child. But it felt much more Evel Knievelish facing out.
When my mom found me in a heap, the tears were still stunned into submission. All she saw was a twisted torso and a gape-mouthed kid in pain. Verdict: seriously bruised coccyx bone. I walked funny for days. And I never went down the ladder facing forward again. Not even to this day.
I still have an occasional flare from that fall decades ago. A pinched nerve. A metal chair for too long might send an electrical current up my spine out of the blue. A pair of vertebrae that easily tangle up on something as innocent as a sneeze.
I didn’t listen. I got hurt. It scared me. I changed my approach. I’ve been safe on ladders ever since. But a few vertebrae still sting to this day. My mom could’ve reamed me that day. Or reamed the ladder company for no reason. Maybe called me insolent and sent me to my room. I mean, after all, I was warned that I might get hurt if I failed to climb carefully. But she did not. And it wouldn’t have helped. In fact, I might have mistaken that type of reaction for lack of caring. For being totally insensitive to the plight of the wounded. The manner in which we are debating guns is making it so difficult for to assume goodwill. One person wishes the NRA president to rot in hell yesterday. The next is shoving a gun into the hands of a teacher who stands at a chalkboard in front of 20 kids who are still learning to tie their shoelaces.
All of this argument about more guns versus less guns these days? All of this shouting about how to be safer? All of this knee-jerk commentary about where the power shifts should be? All of these internet memes trying to categorically wrap every bit of a horrific tragedy that still feels like yesterday into some neat caricatured package? All this talk of whether automatic weapons were used on December 14th or not? Who cares what kind of gun was used? 20 children and six adults are dead in the one place that was supposed to be able to keep them safe. At this point, I don’t care what we do differently. I just care that we do something.
The tug-of-war among NRA supporters and bashers, pheasant hunters, angry parents, and stymied psychologists does not seem to be helping anyone get closer to a solution. Hurled words in the wake of a school shooting (no matter what side you stand on) are no different than berating the child who just fell from the loft. It is like choosing to hurl expletives over AND at the heads of the hurting who lie in a heap on the ground.
Words and adults obviously failed the Newtown shooter. The longer we wait to do better, the more complicit some of us feel in a tragedy like this. The least we can do is find kind words to navigate a kind discussion in the wake of Sandy Hook. At the very least. Pick someone up. There are plenty still on the ground. Debate guns without shouts. It’s time to put the camouflage, memes and lip service away.
Otherwise, we are just descending the ladder facing out.
Note: I made the mistake of leaving this blog open on my laptop as I was writing it. My daughter sat blissfully down at the computer to pull up a You Tube on how to do a waterfall braid last night. Then unbeknownst to me, she read the first two paragraphs. I heard her call my name from where I was doing dishes in the kitchen. I replied with the usual, “Just a minute. I’ll be right there.” Pretty quickly, I sensed the urgency though. Half mad, half scared. She pointed to the part where I admit to lying to her.
Flashback to late December 2012: We are in the grocery store check out line. There is a People magazine cover that is impossible to miss. Impossible to run a parent screen. My daughter looks at me and says, “Wait. All of those kids died at school?”
And that is where this piece really began….
I am not sure where it will end.