Okay, so my topic for this week is going to be about the school shooting, but first, I have to take a quick moment to reflect on the topic of last week's post, specifically how crazy it is that nobody in my family can recall my mother ever completely losing her temper. For those of you who don't know her personally, that pretty much sums it up. She really is as nice as she seems.
Honestly, I normally hate (I'm using this word casually—don't get crazy at me) people like that, but she's my mom so I can only be slightly annoyed that she doesn't seem to lose her mind like I do. In fact, I can't even remember her ever being super angry with me. How is that possible? I was definitely an annoying child...
Anyway, back to the topic.
There was a horrible school shooting last week. I'm sure all of you are familiar with it by now. It was a high school in Florida. There were around 3,000 students. Someone walked in and killed 17 people, injuring many more.
This isn't a political post. I have much I could say politically, but that's not what my story is about. My story is more personal. When I first heard the news, I felt a bit numb. It was another shooting. Another school on lockdown. But then the more I learned about the school, all I could think was, "That looks like Malia's school." The neighborhood looked the same. The size of the school looked the same. The student body seemed relatively similar.
And then they announced 17 people were dead.
Seventeen people were dead at a school that looked like it could have been my daughter's school.
And I just lost it. I started crying.
I'm not an emotional person. I don't cry very often. I will say that we've had a few tough weeks in my household, so my ability to cope with any kind of adversity is at a minimum. But crying is not something I do regularly.
And let's not get too dramatic, I wasn't sobbing or wailing. But I was crying. I was watching the news and tears were pouring down my face.
I am not prepared for a world where our kids are not safe at school. I was prepared to worry about her staying out late. I was prepared to worry about her driving on her own. But for f*&#'s sake, I never imagined I would have to worry about my child getting shot at school.
You have to understand. Malia is a person who was born with an unusually high level of concern for her safety. Loud noises always frightened her. There was an unfortunate incident in a Home Depot where she was in a cart that didn't fit down an aisle, so I parked her at the end of the aisle and walked a few feet away from her to check on something. Well, because of how she was sitting she couldn't see me, even though I could see her at every moment, and she started screaming "I'm not safe! I'm not safe!"
Needless to say, people from all over the store descended upon the cart and I had a lot of explaining to do.
But that's my girl. She's nervous.
When there was a movie theater shooting a few years back, she came to me with tears in her eyes, asking me if she shouldn't go to movies. I, of course, assured her that she was perfectly safe in movie theaters.
Because Malia was always so tentative, I have always felt as if I needed be outwardly very confident so she didn't sense any hesitation from me. When she was a baby and she would fall, she would look to me for my reaction to know how she should react. If she fell and I looked worried, she would immediately burst into tears. And when she first got behind the wheel of a car, I took her onto the freeway very early on, absolutely terrified on the inside, but confidently guiding her on the outside because I didn't want her to be afraid of driving on the freeway.
Because of her extra fears, I have always felt as if I needed to project extra confidence to help her feel safe.
Then there was a school shooting a few years back, and she asked me how I could, as her parent, feel comfortable sending her to school. And I responded, "You're safe." And I actually felt as if she were safe. What was the likelihood of a shooter at her school?
But, now, multiple school shootings later I don't feel as confident.
And Malia is more nervous than ever.
So the day of the Parkland shooting, watching news footage of a school that reminded me too much of Malia's school, the emotions overcame me. I felt shaken. I felt sick. But I made sure my tears were dry when Malia came home.
And of course our first conversation was about what had happened that day. But our discussion about the shooting quickly became contentious. She was upset that I was sending her to school knowing that school shootings were happening almost every week. "Why shouldn't you want me to be home schooled?" she asked me. And my answer was of course, "because we need to live our lives. We can't hide in our houses." I reminded her that many more people die every day from things like driving and health problems than do from shootings. So while it's awful and scary, not going to school is not a way to avoid the dangers of life. And the reality is that our existence is still so much safer compared to so many places in the world.
She understood and agreed, but was still upset.
She finally admitted that part of what was upsetting her was that I didn't seem worried. It was making her sad that she felt as if I didn't care that she could get shot at school.
And I finally realized that she was reacting to the way I was reacting around her, and how that reaction was not a reflection of my true feelings. My reaction was one that has been carefully cultivated over the years to try and not make her feel more upset. My reaction was one that was the result of not wanting to burden her with my own fears.
But she needed to know I had fears. She needed to know how I truly felt.
So I told her that I had cried that day. I told her I was of course terrified that something could happen to her, but what choice do we have? We can limit our lives to only things that feel "safe." Or we can chose to live our lives without fear the best we can.
And she understood that.
I think she had simply needed to know that I cared. She needed to know that I had feelings—that I didn't just shrug my shoulders and move on. She needed to know that I felt afraid for her. And she's old enough now to handle knowing that her mother has fears and weaknesses. In fact, it's helpful for her to see that I too have times when things are scary to me.
And that was an important lesson for me to learn. I've spent so much of my life as a mother trying to protect Malia from all my weaknesses. I've tried to shield her from the burden of knowing that I have problems and fears and doubts—because I never wanted my feelings to affect her.
But she's not a baby anymore. I'm not here to simply protect her anymore. She needs to see that emotions, happiness, sadness, joy, and fear are things we all experience.
And she needs to see me setting the example of knowing that even though I am afraid and uncertain, I choose not to let the small chance of something "bad" happening stop me from living a full life.
And she needed to know that if I really felt that her life was in danger, I would care and take action.
And I would.
At this point, honestly, if she told me she really didn't feel safe going to school, I would probably let her home school. Because the shootings are happening too often. And if anything ever happened to her and I had denied her request to study at home, I would never forgive myself.
But my choice is for her to continue going to school with her friends. My choice is for her to understand that the world can be dangerous, but to live the fullest life she can anyway. And, for now, that's what she has also chosen.
So I won't hide my tears from her anymore. If I feel afraid, it's okay for her to see it. We can be afraid together. And we can talk about how we want to handle it.
I hope families all across the country are having these discussions. And I hope that no family ever has to endure the pain of saying goodbye to their child at the beginning of a school day and never seeing them again.