The “gun” talk. It’s something that I had never considered, staring at my hugely round belly or cradling two tiny babies in my arms. Yes, I had wondered how I would talk to them about dating, alcohol, and sex. I had thought about how I would talk about bullying and teasing, and about being the odd kid out.
Despite the fact that I grew up in a relatively rough neighborhood with guns very present- having been robbed at gun point on a date, been present for a drive-by shooting at my jr. high, having seen guns waved on my street by gang-bangers, and having been in an armed bank robbery- all before I had graduated from high school- it still never crossed my mind that I would need to talk to our young daughters about the danger and horror of school shootings.
And yet, this past Friday, we had the unfortunate opportunity to put into practice a conversation plan that we first used when the Sandy Hook school shooting happened. When I got home from work on Friday and met the kids, I told them solemnly that I needed to talk with them about something important. A sad and terrible thing had happened. I said that there had been a shooting at a school in Washington state, not in our district, but close. I said it had been a student, and two people had died and several had been hurt.
The girls reacted differently. Sofia went quiet- instantly turning her head and body away, as if to shield herself from the news. Audrey stared at me with big, serious eyes. I continued by saying that I wanted them to hear it from me, so that they would not be frightened or confused if they heard about it from friends or at school. I said they could ask any questions and I would answer them honestly (this is true- but with some restraint. I’ll explain more in a moment).
Over the course of the next few hours and over the weekend, we had many more short conversations, most initiated by them, but a couple more that Tony and I brought up. They had questions about what had happened. Sofia asked where they were shot. This is when I put a limitation on my forthrightness- I told them I didn’t know. There is being honest and then there is putting the image of a child being shot in the head by another child in your daughter’s mind- I’m just not going there.
Audrey asked why he brought a gun to school if it could hurt his friends? This thoughtful question struck my soul and demonstrated to me what an incredible capacity children have both to ask unvarnished, sophisticated, and yet painfully simple questions. I answered as gently as I could that he did shoot his friends. I explained that children (up through teenagers) should not have guns (unsupervised) because they don’t make good decisions yet. To which Audrey replied, teenagers are the worst [at making decisions]. Yes, I said, they are. I said that the boy was probably a good person who made a horrible, horrible mistake because he had access to a gun. With a different set of circumstances, it would have been an after-school fight, a bloody nose for somebody, and a suspension.
We had a conversation about gun safety. I explained that they could never, ever be around a gun without an adult. If a friend says they have a gun in their house or their backpack or says they want to show it to you- you immediately leave. You tell their parents, you tell me, and you keep telling until an adult listens. I explained that guns are so dangerous because an accident can happen so fast and be so powerful. I said- it’s not like breaking something like a glass bowl or something expensive like a laptop; with a gun, even a tiny mistake can kill you or your friend.
We spent a lot of time talking about their school. I said that the school, from the principal, to the teachers, to office staff- their number one priority, even above learning- is keeping you safe. I said that I felt very confident that their school was safe and they had nothing to worry about. This was the only time when my heart was really in my throat and I felt closest to a lie- not because I don’t believe that the entire staff is wholly focused on safety, but because there is a limit to what they can do. Stopping short of metal detectors, there is room for tragedy to strike. And even then, safety is not guaranteed. And there is not a snowball’s chance in hell that I would ever let them attend a school where the staff was armed. End of discussion.
Each time one of these horrific events occurs, one of the things we all decide to do is take a leap of faith. We have to put our trust in the people around us, the teachers and staff at our children’s schools, our fellow parents, and most important- we have to make a conscious decision that fear will not rule us.
I also believe it’s times like these that we need to take action and make our voices heard. I talked to the girls about voting and about how we have an opportunity to make our community safer by voting yes on Initiative 594, requiring background checks for all gun sales in Washington state. No- it won’t change everything, but it will make a difference. It will send the message, that collectively, as a community- we believe in common sense safety for ourselves and others.
Each night at dinner, we do a “gratitude practice” (thanks to Brene Brown’s wonderful short lecture series, The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting). Our practice is to go around the table and share at least one thing that we are grateful for. Last night, Audrey enthusiastically started off our gratitude practice by saying she was grateful for her school’s Safety Procedure. I could have hugged the entire staff of her school (and honestly, high-fived myself). It felt great to know that over the course of a few days of thinking, talking, and listening at home and at school, she felt a sense of confidence in her school and environment. Her sense of security had been shaken, yes- but we reinforced it successfully.
I am a huge fan of Moms Demand Action for Gun Safety in America and the many other groups that are trying valiantly to bring some reason to what has become an unreasonable and untenable situation. I have written previously about gun safety and what we can do about it. You can read my two previous blogs, My Child’s Next Birthday Party Will Be At a Gun Range (it was not), and Locked and Unloaded: Getting Real About Gun Safety. Each successive shooting does not make me more radical, but it does make me more resolute in my belief that we must stand up for our children and the values we embrace as a country.
I hope that this blog is helpful as you navigate these difficult conversations with your own children. I hope you’ll speak up for the safety of our children. I hope you’ll take a stand for creating a community where we can live, learn, and grow without fear. It takes courage and fortitude but if we come together we can stand up to the senseless, profit-driven men who continue, against reason and evidence to peddle a culture of fear and distrust.
We must not allow progress to be suffocated by fear.
I appreciate you taking the time to read this post. Please comment, share, and participate in this important discussion with your family and community.