I knew I had to tell my children, as they’d find out from their friends eventually. I knew I needed to tell them quickly and in a way that made them feel safe.
I would keep it simple, tell them only the basic facts. Yes, there was a shooting at an elementary school. Yes, children died. Yes, it is very, very sad. No, they don’t need to worry about their own safety.
And so I did just that. I thought I was doing a good job until Tommy looked up at me with his big eyes and said very slowly, “why?”
It broke me.
Claire, in her typical reaction, immediately was more worried about me than anyone else. “It’s okay, mama” she kept saying as I tried to stop crying. I didn’t want to scare my kids. I repeated the lines that I knew from teacher training. “You are safe right now. This is very sad and we will do what we can to support the community that is hurting. You don’t need to look at the news right now. The adults are going to keep you safe.”
We talked for a bit and the boys wandered off, easily soothed by my words.
Claire stayed in the kitchen with me, first quietly, and then asking questions. How safe was her school, really? Yes, there are metal detectors and police officers, but what if someone came around the back part of the school, the part that’s exposed? What if someone had a gun, or what if there was a group of people with guns?
I tried to soothe her. We have so many people in our community trying to keep her and her brothers safe. “You don’t need to worry,” I said. “You are safe.”
She was silent.
She knew it was a lie.
When Sandy Hook happened, Claire was 3 and I was horrified, like everyone I knew. Those children, those families, those parents. But I also remember being relieved that I didn’t have to explain what had happened to Claire. I remember thinking my children wouldn’t have to face such an event ever again, because no one would let 20 children and 6 adults die like that ever again.
Which was also a lie.
Claire and I talked about what can be done, and I explained a bit about the politics behind our lack of gun control. But I felt sick doing it. All I could think about were the families there, and their horror, and the grief that they feel right now and will feel for years and years.
“Why doesn’t Congress do something?” Claire asked, exasperated. I told her that some of the elected representatives had really tried. I told her about March for Our Lives and reminded her that even teenagers can try and make a difference. I moved into teacher mode – inform, empower, reassure. Claire hugged me a number of times. She kept looking at me, worried about my reaction, so I tried to keep my face even. “You’re safe,” I kept saying.
We both knew that it was a lie.
Later that evening, Austin had a baseball game. Chris was out of town, so I walked over to the field to watch him by myself. The night was cool, and the parents huddled together on the sideline, talking only in bits about the shooting. It was all any of us could handle, or at least it was all I could handle, to sit there and watch our boys play ball.
Across the field, I saw a couple I recognized. They were watching this game of 5th grade boys, and I saw them clasp hands. I knew them, as I’d taught one of their children many years ago.
I don’t know why they stopped to watch the game, not really. They certainly didn’t have any kids on the team, and they didn’t stay for more than half an inning. They just stood there, silently, and watched as the boys hit the ball and cheered for each other. I watched them clasp hands at one point.
If I had to guess, I think they were trying to remind each other of all that is still good in this world. I think they were trying to tell themselves that things were still okay, and that our kids are safe.
But it is a lie.