One day a couple years ago, I was running late to pick my child up from school for a doctor appointment. As I rushed in and began tapping at the attendance computer on the receptionist’s desk, I noticed an eerie and unusual calm that one doesn’t usually experience at one o’clock p.m. in an otherwise bustling pre-k through eighth grade school.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Glow,” the receptionist began, “you’ll have to wait. We’re doing an intruder drill.”
A momentary chill traveled up my spine as I noticed the closed steel doors blocking both the north and south hallways. The front office blinds, normally wide open and welcoming, were completely closed. Another office assistant closed the always open office door behind me. “We can’t unlock the hallway doors just yet,” she said grimly.
There was a time when I would have scoffed at this perceived over-cautionary measure. In the 1990s, I taught fifth graders in a school that was close to the gang-infested neighborhoods of Omaha; yet I never once feared for my safety. When a first grader declared that he was going to go home and get his daddy’s gun to shoot me with, I brushed it off.
Then, in April of 1999, two boys in a Colorado school showed us that gun safety and schools must go hand-in-hand.
Still, even as a young stay-at-home mother, I believed that gun violence was something that happened in other places.
Until the December day in 2007 when I was Christmas shopping with two of my four small children at Westroads mall. I didn’t believe the noises I heard were gunshots, and I certainly didn’t believe that a young man was shooting people just yards away in a store that I had left thirty seconds earlier.
Not in Omaha, Nebraska.
As a movie and church goer, as a teacher and citizen who goes about her daily business not wanting to think that such things can happen, nothing shook me up as much as the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newton, Connecticut. That day, 20 precious six and seven-year-olds lost their lives along with six adults who dedicated their lives to protecting and teaching children.
It didn’t just shake me up, it terrified me; and it still does.
As parents, we work so hard to keep our children safe: seat belts and bike helmets, vitamins and healthy food, rules about strangers and crossing the street, safety talks about dogs and friends’ dads’ guns, internet precautions and spotting the signs of a sexual predator. We prepare them for every possible scenario, and then breathe a sigh of relief.
Then one day they get cancer or fall victim to an amusement park ride or a disgruntled teenager with access to guns. Stories like these make us parents stop in our tracks and hug our children tight, read them an extra bedtime story, let them eat ice cream for dinner.
And while all of this is horrifying and scary, we cannot keep our children in a bubble. I tell myself that every time I go to a mall, or a movie theater, or the gym, or church and I get a tingly feeling as if something bad is about to happen. We cannot live our lives in fear, and we cannot condition our children to be fearful either.
But we can . . .
- continue to teach them about gun safety.
- discuss the violence they see in video games, television shows, and movies.
- never hide the news from them, but learn age-appropriate ways to discuss it with them.
- know the signs of bullying and what to do about it.
- teach them strategies to notice and/or survive a shooting.
- talk to your child’s school about their intruder plan and help them create one if needed.
- condition our children to be good people, good friends, and good citizens who notice and recognize social cues and are willing to step up and help others.
Even though tragedy has struck my life in a big way a couple of times, it’s still scary for me to discuss guns and death with my children. But you know what’s even more scary? The thought of saying good-bye to another one of my sons.
That day in the school office was the one day I didn’t care about being late for an appointment. I am glad that my children’s school has a plan and is practicing it. As hard as it is to imagine, ultimately it will mean the difference between saving a life or losing one.
*The Her View From Home community sends our continued love and prayers to all families who have lost a loved one due to gun violence.