I almost didn’t write this post. There are so many people talking about what happened in Newtown and I hesitate to throw my voice in the mix.
There are news stories telling heroic stories of teachers saving lives. There are pictures and names of little children and school staff who have been taken from this world. There are people calling for stronger gun control and others crying for better mental health coverage.
I’ve seen mothers come forward with heartbreaking honesty about their own children’s mental health. I’ve seen countless articles about how to talk to your children about what happened, and just as many saying not to say a damn thing.
Friday morning I drove my first grader to school and kept my preschooler home sick with me for the day. On our way home I was going to pull into my neighborhood gas station to fill up my car, but found it completely taped off – and full of news media and police cars. I found out that earlier that morning there had been a carjacking and a shooting. At the gas station by my house. The one where I get gas at least once a week.
It shook me up. Within a couple of hours, I heard about the school shooting. Sadly we’ve heard plenty of these stories – about mass shootings at universities, high schools, a shopping mall, a movie theater. They are all incomprehensible. But this one felt different. An elementary school. With innocent babies.
I watched my twitter feed and online news sites as the facts unfolded. I couldn’t turn on the TV because my 4 year old was home with me. I’m actually grateful for that – I didn’t need to see those horrible images any more than she did.
We picked my first grader up the moment school got out. He was excited to see me hours early (he usually goes to after-school care). All I wanted to do was get them both home. But I stopped at the gas station on the way home (the yellow tape was gone) and with PTSD-like anxiety I locked my kids in the car as I got the pump ready and then locked all of us in the car as it filled up.
How could the world have felt pretty safe just a few hours ago and now I was afraid? Damn it.
We went home and in my attempt to have a normal, fun afternoon I took out the painting supplies and easel and we listened to Christmas music while the kids painted Christmas scenes. They had fun and had no idea what had unfolded earlier that morning. I had already decided there was no point in telling them what happened. They are too young and chances are pretty good that no one else their age is going to tell them about it.
But I did talk about safety that evening. Calmly and matter of fact, I asked Alex what kind of drills they have at school and how they work. He told me about severe weather drills and fire drills. I was curious about where they went and how well he knew the procedures. And finally, when I asked if they have any other kind of drills, he remembered “internal lock down” drills and walked me through it.
As he explained it step by step, I envisioned his classroom under attack, just like the stories I had been hearing from Newtown. I asked what would be a situation that would call for an internal lock down to which he replied, “like, maybe if a stray dog got in the school, or … a bad guy. But that would probably never happen.”
Right. Probably never.
I talk to my kids fairly regularly about what to do if they get lost, how to handle someone being a bully or what to do if someone is trying to touch them or get them to touch them inappropriately. Always trying to strike a healthy balance of educating and empowering without scaring them.
So Friday night, when the topic of bad guys came up, I talked to them, briefly, about what to do if there was a bad guy. It included hiding, running and playing dead. Yes, playing dead. Just like animals do when there is a predator (they know quite a bit about the animal kingdom). Without prompting, both kids showed me they know how to play dead, being very still and keeping their eyes closed. They thought it was a bit funny and didn’t seem to internalize the conversation or at all worry that a situation like this might really happen to them.
But for me, knowing what happened at Newtown, it was bone chilling. I hope they never need to use that information. But I felt it was important enough to tell them and seemed to fit the conversation. It really could save their lives some day.
Everyone heads back to school tomorrow. I’m seeing friends talk about telling their kids tonight before they go to school in case they possibly hear about it from the other kids. But I would argue that everyone doing this “in case” is going to cause the children whose parents don’t want them to know… to find out.
In a few hours we’ll be heading to the school Christmas Concert and I plan to check in with a few of the parents from my son’s class to see if they told their kids. Then I’ll make a final decision on if I need to give him any information at all. If I do, it will be very, very limited and not include the fact that children or teachers died.
If any parents read this, I’d love to hear how old your kids are and what decisions you are making on what or how to talk to your children. Because at the end of the day, I know we will each do what we think is best for our kids…
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