Conversations We Wish We Didn't Have To Have...
When I picked Zoe up from school on Friday, we didn't discuss the shootings. I'm sure she could see that I was distraught and I definitely hugged her even more than I usually do (which is a lot) but I just couldn't deal with telling my five and a half year old that someone had walked into a school and done the unthinkable - to children her age, to people like her trusted and beloved teachers. I just didn't have the strength to have a calm discussion with her at that moment because inside, I was screaming and hysterical.
We did talk about her day at school. We talked about how much fun she had wearing her flannel pajamas and robe to school. We talked about how she wants to wear her hair the way I did it that morning, at least once a week. We talked about watching Polar Express and how happy she was that I was able to come to her classroom and make hot cocoa for her and her friends. She told me I make the "best hot cocoa, ever" and requested another cup right then.
We also talked about the lock down drill her school did (that completely by coincidence happened at the same time as the shootings according to reports and Zoe's teacher). She told me she didn't like the lock down drill. She said that she and her friends don't understand why anyone would come to their school to hurt them. Zoe's voice cracked as she asked me why people are bad. She giggled when she told me she'd just fold herself into her desk to hide or 'do karate on them". I'm told that some students cried during the drill, that it was all too overwhelming for some of them and I am sure my daughter was one of the kids who felt emotional about such a serious thing. It's incomprehensible for a five year old to understand such atrocities. Instead of trying to explain everything in depth Friday, I simply asked Zoe to make sure that she took the drills seriously and always followed directions. I reiterated to her that when a trusted adult asks her to do something like be quiet or to take/stop action, we are doing it because it is our job to keep her and her classmates safe. I tried to explain (for the zillionth time) that sometimes there is no time for an explanation, she just needs to follow directions.
Beyond that, Daniel and I shielded the kids from Friday's tragedy. We did not listen to or watch the news around the kids. We only discussed things in round about ways and hushed tones. We shielded Zoe and Finn from what we were sure would give them nightmares and insecurity.
Last night, as I was trying to fall asleep, all I could think about was all the victims. I imagined the horror they went through, but instead of the faces I've seen in photos, I saw my daughter and her classmates, their teachers, their Principal. What would I do if a gunman came into our classroom when I was helping? I quizzed myself: I always bring my phone in the classroom. There are 22 kids in Zoe's class. Two of those children have special needs. There are 12 cabinets against the long wall - there are six more short cabinets across from the two bathrooms. I'm not sure if the bathrooms in the classroom actually lock. There is a train/activity table with two drawers, each large enough for a small child. There is a small window that looks out to the parking lot. I had worked myself into a panic attack thinking about it all.
And then it struck me - Zoe was going to go to school the next morning and be surrounded by older children in the morning and at recess who probably knew all about the shootings. The idea of her finding out from an eight or ten year old instead of me or Daniel worried me. I wanted to be able to talk to her, as we sat in our home. I wanted her to feel comfortable to react however she needed and to be able to ask questions. I wanted to reiterate that lock down drills are important and serious because someday (hopefully never) her school might need to have a real lock down. I wanted to tell her that if she ever hears loud noises that she should stop what she is doing, look for her teachers and keep her mouth closed until a teacher says it's OK to speak. But I hadn't told her anything. I hadn't prepared her at all. And so I decided I couldn't let her go to school today.
Now, I know that there are people out there who would disagree with my decision. We can't live in fear. I can't be with my children every second and they deserve to be able to live their lives without being constantly shielded by their mother. I get it and I agree... except, I need to know that I've prepared my children the best way that I know how. I spend my life protecting my kids, but I need to continue to have those tough conversations too.
So Zoe and I sat upstairs in her bright, sunny room this morning. I played with her hair as I explained that I kept her home because there was something I needed to talk to her about. I told her that last Friday someone came into a school a lot like hers and he hurt a lot of people - kids her age and teachers. Her eyes were wide with shock and I could see her trying to process it all. I told her that she might end up hearing about some of it at school, but that I'd like for her not to get involved in conversations about it because some big kids might not get the facts right. I didn't go into detail about what happened but I asked her to do what we always do - if she hears something at school that makes her feel uncomfortable or confused, that she can ask me or Daniel about it at home and we'll help her through it. Tomorrow she will go to school, as will Finnegan. I still feel sick thinking about them being away from me and I will always worry about their safety - ALWAYS... but I feel better having had a conversation with my daughter to prepare her for what she might hear.
All I can think is, this is the tough part about parenting. Forget the diaper changes and the tantrums and them not sleeping through the night. This is the part of parenting that rips at your heart as you struggle for the right things to say and do in times like this. From the time I first found out I was pregnant with each child, my focus has been on their health and happiness. I have been blessed with two sweet children and I have done my best to keep them safe. Sending them out into a world with so many dangers and entrusting others to care for them... it can be overwhelming and terrifying. Sometimes I wish they were still babies, safe in my arms at home.