Door to school for blog by DC widow writer Marjorie Brimley Hale
Things That Suck

It Is a Lie

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.


  • Sarah B.

    I started crying talking to my 10 year old daughter yesterday about the shootings. I too felt I had to tell her, it needed to come from me. She asked me if kids were hurt, and I said yes. She looked at me, her eyes welling with tears, and said did the teachers get hurt? I know how much she loves her 5th grade teacher this year. I know how she believes her beloved teacher will keep her safe. I had to tell her that some teachers died too. She didn’t ask me any more questions, but I saw her face. She knew that her teacher will try, but she can’t keep her safe. My heart broke, enraged that I had to put that understanding in her mind, in her heart. I cried between my meetings at work, and I cried even harder when I saw her slowly walk off to school, to the place she always thought of as safe. At least until yesterday.

    • M Brimley

      It’s so hard. So terribly, terribly hard. But talking to our kids is the only way through it, I think, even if it is so painful.

  • Greg

    We had one of our ‘active shooter’ drills at my school the day before the most recent shooting; it’s awful to think how many such drills these kids have been through by the time they graduate. How is that right??? I believe the school shootings have a lot to do with many of the changes I’ve seen-in both our kids and my colleagues-in my decades as an educator. It’s never an easy job to be a kid, but these days we see so many who are beset with crippling anxieties! I see so many of them who are in this mental space where they’re going through a routine like mimes do, when they’re pretending the walls are closing in on them. If that makes sense. It’s sad, and it’s also kind of a rational response to the world they’ve grown up in.

    • M Brimley

      Exactly. I’ve seen the changes in students as well. After Sandy Hook, they were shaken, but this time, it’s like they’ve come to expect horror to happen. Even if it still disturbs them, it’s not the same.

  • Melissa

    Uvalde, where the shooting took place, is about a two hour drive away from where I live here in Texas. I am not a native Texan, having moved here from California almost 30 years ago. I do not, and will never, understand the gun culture so prevalent here and in our country. An 18 year-old boy should not be able to buy an assault rifle and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. When I was in elementary school in the 1950’s we had to do “duck and cover” drills for possible nuclear attacks, but no one really expected one to happen. Now, parents send their kids off in the morning and pray that they aren’t murdered by the end of the day. What in God’s name is wrong with this country?