Monday, December 17, 2012

What to say

Like many parents, I could not decide what to tell my daughter about the shootings in Newtown. I didn't want to tell her at all. The tragedy at Sandy Hook also made me realize that I'd never really talked to her about security at school. I guess it just never occurred to me to say, "Hey, if a crazy person with a gun comes into your school and starts shooting everyone, this is what you should do." And even if I did, what sort of protocol would I recommend? Run? Fling yourself under your desk? These school shootings always seem very random as far as who gets gunned down. There doesn't seem to be much that a child can do to escape a bullet.  It's heartbreaking that we have to think about such things.

At first I was pretty determined not to tell her. A lot of my friends were having similar debates on Facebook. Talk or don't talk? Most opted to bring up the topic in as much as they were concerned that their child(ren) would hear about it elsewhere.  On Saturday afternoon, my daughter and I baked and listened to Christmas carols. When we weren't baking, she was watching the Disney Channel. Everything is sunshine and lollipops on the Disney Channel, so I knew we were safe from bad news - at least for the moment.

On Sunday, my daughter and I spent the day together.  We skipped church and went out to brunch instead, just the two of us. We did some Christmas shopping and had a wonderful time. As we drove around, I looked at all the flags flying at half-staff and decided I should probably say something. I was afraid she would hear some buzz at school on Monday. I was somewhat vague in the retelling of Friday's events. I basically just told her that a man went into a school and hurt some children but that she shouldn't worry about her school.  She asked me a couple of questions and we talked about the flags. "The flags have been lowered for the children," I told her.

I didn't explicitly tell her that 20 children died. I didn't mention that they were her age (a fact that made the news all the more searing for me).  If she asks for more details, I will do my best, but I didn't want to paint too frightening a picture. I didn't want to tell her that I am scared to let her out of my sight. I cannot begin to imagine the horror that the Newtown parents felt on Friday . . . that feeling of not wanting it to be any child but most of all not wanting it to be your own. "Please please please," I know they were chanting in their heads as they ran towards that school.

I didn't cry about the shootings until Saturday night, when Saturday Night Live opened with a choir of children singing Silent Night. It was a simple but poignant way to honor the fallen.

If this tragedy makes it necessary to address the issue of gun control, I suppose I should mention it also. You see, I was raised by a pacifist. My mom didn't even want us forming our hands into the shape of a gun.  I have zero interest in owning a gun or learning to shoot a gun. My husband and I differ on this. He believes in gun ownership.  I'm not completely opposed to people owning handguns or even standard hunting rifles. I am opposed to people owning anything more powerful than that. Nobody needs an assault rifle. It bugs me that the pro-gun people refuse to acknowledge the killing power that is very specific to guns. They say, "What else will you outlaw? Knives?" Well, look at it this way. Let's say that the shooter in Newtown had stormed the elementary school with a knife. Could he have killed 26 people before killing himself with that knife?  It's an impossibility, in my view.

I don't have any answers, though. I have to believe that the shooter was mentally ill. The linked issues of gun control and mental illness . . . well, it's all a little too heady for my little blog.

After our brunch yesterday, I took my daughter to a gingerbread house party. She and eight other little girls slathered gingerbread houses with copious amounts of frosting and then affixed candy to the houses. As I watched my daughter carefully poke M&M's into the frosting, I couldn't help but revel in that small moment of innocence and wish that nothing else would ever seep in.

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