I remember when I learned about Sandy Hook. My son was in preschool at the time and I wasn’t sure whether or not to say something to him. When he started kindergarten the following year he came home and told me they had practiced a lockdown drill. He told me they had to hide and be very quiet. I asked him if he knew why and he said no, he just had to make sure he didn’t make a sound.
I felt comforted but at the same time sick to my stomach. We lived in close proximity to the school and anytime I heard a siren go by I wondered if my phone was about to go off informing me of something happening at the school. I thought of the parents of those children who had attended a school where a school shooting took place. I often wondered how they made it through the day. I can’t imagine what that must be like.
This year, we are in a new school and our littlest is in kindergarten. She loves school and has been eager to go to “big kid school” for a couple of years. Finally, it’s her turn. Last week she started saying she never wanted to go back to school. I thought it had something to do with the “hikes” they went on during PE since she had complained about those a few times, not a lover of physical activity.
Then she came out of her room and said she had to sleep with us. We assured her she was okay (we were still up watching television since it wasn’t too much past her normal bedtime). The hubs laid down with her and then after he took the dog on a walk she came out of her room again. She started again saying that she couldn’t sleep alone. She wasn’t going to school. Not that she didn’t want do but that this time she’d like to see us try to make her. I went upstairs with her frustrated. I put her in bed and laid next to her. I asked her what was going on.
She started sobbing so hard that I couldn’t understand what she was saying. I heard the word bathroom in between sobs and was afraid someone had done something, had hurt her. I told her to take a deep breath. Everything was okay, we were in her room. Then she said she didn’t want to go to school because she was afraid a bad man was going to come and shoot all the kids. They had to hide. They had to turn off the lights. She didn’t want to go to school anymore. She said it was all she could think about.
This is my roll-off-her-back kid. She shrugs most things off unless she feels as though you have somehow crossed someone she loves. My more sensitive big kid heard us and came into the hallway from his room. I told him everything was fine and to go back to bed. He said to her, “It’s only a drill. They lock the doors when we are there. They have cameras everywhere. Don’t forget the cameras.”
That seemed to ease her mind a little. She said she had forgotten about the cameras. I asked her if they practiced for fires. She said yes. I asked her if she remembered us having a family meeting and talking about our family plan for a fire and where we meet up in case we aren’t all together when we get out. She said yes. I told her those are ways we practice for scary things so that if it ever does happen we can stay calm because we have a plan. This is no different. This is how we learn to be safe. She was still afraid and I stayed with her a few more minutes until she was almost asleep.
I went downstairs with a pit in my stomach that has remained everyday that she’s gone to school since then. I still tense up when I hear a siren during school hours. Columbine happened when I was in college. This wasn’t commonplace back then. My college roommates and I sat around the television for hours watching the news footage, horrified.
I went to the internet, because that’s when you go when you don’t know what to do and there’s no book on how to ease your child’s fears about school shooters. There were tons of blogs and forums with parents saying they didn’t know how to make it easier for their kids. I can’t believe that my little one is the only child who is having issues, nightmares about this. How is there not some protocol for helping kids to process this?
We have to do better. I can talk to my kids honestly and say that this is their practice, I had to do it when I worked at the hospital. We practice for the scary things so we know how to make them not so scary, so we know how to keep ourselves safe. I can tell them that those things scare me too but having a plan makes me feel better. I can encourage them to talk with me about the things that scare them and ways we can take some of the power out of the fear. But we have to do better for our kids.
Of all the things I thought I’d have to deal with as a parent, this was not one of them. How the hell did we get here?