When the last minute comes: talking to my preschooler about mass shootings

I was doing okay.

Last night Florida was just in my periphery, some news coverage on a bar TV alerted me while I sipped milkshakes on a much coveted date night. My sadness over yet another school shooting eventually displaced by the fleeting thoughts of bracing for the next days’ onslaught of social media wars about gun rights. More or less forgotten as we reclined our seats and disappeared into a cinema screen.

The reality is that we think we’ve got a shield of regularity that ongoing gun violence has given us — lightening bolts bounce right off it. When it does sting, we think we do the best by rubbing at that angry spot for awhile, maybe scoop some dirt in it and pick at the scab like it’s some skinned summer knee. We also think the onslaught is from the outside — concrete and lightning meeting thin skin. We think that we can just wrap up in layers of rubber and light a fire circle to protect us while the earth is scorched outside.  We yell at each other so we can feel better, sloppily wrapping the wound in that shield of anger and lighting irresponsible fires while the gravestones gathering around on our shoulders barely register as freckles. But America’s infection is slithering in veins and blood, it is knocking on the doors of our organs, turning our limbs gangrenous just slowly enough that we can pretend not to notice and hobble along, the stench clinging behind — death perfume.

I remember 9/11, when they told me that my classroom was the safest place to be. They don’t care about schools.

Today I thought about my son in his preschool. A place that for all intents and purposes is well protected. It’s got a key code entry system and has safety plans and does emergency drills. It’s on the campus of a University with it’s own police force. But I still felt a little gnawing stone of fear rolling around in my stomach. For all it’s precautions and best practices, would it matter if someone with a weapon really wanted to harm and maim and kill?

I don’t know. And that scares me.

Resolved, an hour ago I had “the talk” with my preschooler in the car on our way home. It’s where we have our best conversations.

I have to say something important to you. If someone comes to your school and has a gun or is trying to hurt people you need to listen to your teachers

What do you mean, mama?

Remember how we practiced a fire drill at our house? If there is any emergency, or something scary is happening, listen to the grownups you know, okay?

Like, if a bad guy comes? That’s silly.

Why is it silly?

Bad guys aren’t real, Mama, it’s silly.

Well, not like Joker, or Darth Vader, you’re right. But there are people who do bad things, who really hurt people. Someone came to a school yesterday and hurt some kids.

Like my school?

They were older kids, but it was a school.


Your school has a lot of things to protect you. And the grownups know what to do if someone bad is happening. It’s just important that you are safe, and you follow directions, and listen the first time.

I think you are right Mama, bad guys are real.

Well, I think there are people who choose to do bad things. It’s why when we play I don’t like to play guns, because guns can hurt people in real life.

Okay. Did he blast them?

He hurt them with a gun.

Did they die?

Some people did.

Are you sad?

I am sad. I am sad that those people are gone. I am sad that people want to hurt other people.

Me too. Do you think the guy who hurt people was sad?

I think he was very sad, and mad, and didn’t know what to do. That’s why it’s important to be a kind friend, so that people have someone when they are sad and mad who loves them.

Everybody needs a friend.
I don’t know where God is today. I can’t make promises about very much, or explain how we can make it better. I have all the training about trauma and violence and what it can do to us. I know why:
Hurt people hurt people.

Today is per usual on my Facebook feed: Distress and wringing of hands, calls for “more than thoughts and prayers; action.” The ensuing greed, gluttony, envy, lust, and pride holding onto our guns, the sloth, wrath, and pride we hold onto to be right. 
We need action and change, we need to start flooding the wound with antibiotics. We need our best scientists on the case to isolate the bug, we need to stop wrapping ourselves in rubber shields like it’s healing something.Someone is without their baby tonight. Tomorrow it could be me, and those fears are not unfounded.

Children lived their last minute on earth because someone else’s fear and pain and anguish and access to inventions designed exactly to do what they did coincided. And it could be someone in my city tomorrow, it could be someone walking into my son’s preschool angry and hurt and damaged who just a few days before walked into a gun store and stockpiled that pain in bullets and AR-15s.

I’m afraid to send my child to school, because we hold nothing and nowhere as sacred, not schools, not places of worship, not our homes.

Tomorrow we’ll wake up and nothing will have changed. Politicians will politic, gun lobbyists will lobby, hurt people will hurt people, and we’ll continue our journey of self-destruction.

That conversation I had with my child makes me sick, and will make me sick each time I have it with him. This is terrorism in it’s finest hour.

But I do know that everybody needs a friend.

As miserably cloying as that it is, it’s true.

So somewhere in your philosophical and moral and righteous anger whether your arming the masses or locking the guns away, be kind too. Language matters. Violence in our words is the first sign of infection. Be angry and sad and hurt, sit with those Moms and Dads in their grief but put your misery into action and work. Become the steroid to start boosting the immune system. Change the world. Please. 


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