As the Newtown, Conn., school shooting became more horrifying and heartbreaking with each new report, I thought about my kid and all the kids in classrooms around the nation.
School is supposed to be a safe place for our children. Otherwise, why would any sane parent willingly agree to allow their child to stay at a dangerous place day in and day out? I certainly wouldn't. No parent I know would. Yet every day we send them out into the world without us right there to make sure they stay safe.
Shortly after that horrible day in Connecticut, we started hearing about how to best talk to your children about the massacre. I wondered, "Why would I tell my child about such a horrible thing in the first place?" It's not like it affects her directly. It's not like it's something that happened across the street or in the next town and she would hear about it at school or on the bus. It wasn't information she needed to have. I figured if I didn't say anything about it, she would never know about it and she would never have to deal with the fear and worry that comes with realizing that school isn't always as safe as we like to think it is. And that there are some people out there who do horrible, heartbreaking things for no reason.
Once you tell a child something, you can't un-tell it. There are just some things kids shouldn't have to worry about, and wondering if someone is going to break into their school and kill people and children is a big one.
So, I wasn't going to say a word to her about it. I was going to let her remain innocent and ignorant of such terrible things for a while longer. She's usually in bed by the time the news comes on in the evening, so catching a glimpse of those images on the news wasn't a worry.
I should have known better. In this world of instant information 24/7, I should have known that she would find out, would have questions and concerns and would want to talk.
As usual when she hears stuff through friends, the information wasn't entirely accurate.
I don't think any one can ever answer the why, but I could give it my best shot for the rest.
She was worried about a "crazy person" deciding to break in to her school and shoot people. She was worried that no one in her school would be able to fight back or shoot back if that ever happened.
She wanted to know how anyone could ever point a gun at a kindergartner and shoot him. That was unfathomable and incomprehensible to her.
She wanted to know how he got into the school in the first place because she knows what a hassle it is for parents, much less a stranger, to get into her school. She wanted to know why there weren't police at the school to stop the man and why there aren't police at her school protecting them from bad people. Good question, kid.
I didn't have all the answers. I couldn't even assure her that it would never happen at her school. But I did remind her how many thousands of schools there are in the United States and how rarely something this awful and heartbreaking happens.
We did talk about how she could protect herself. No, I'm not advocating sending kids to schools with weapons. But if I can teach her how to react to horrifying situations. We have a fire escape and tornado safety plan at home, and now, she has a "gun-wielding lunatic in the classroom" plan of action.
Just like the natural disaster plans, I want her to know it inside and out and make it an automatic response. But I sure hope she never has to actually put it into action.