This is a post I didn’t plan to write. My “Free-For-All Friday” posts are typically planned months in advance because there is so much random information I want to share with you all. I don’t know how much you all like reading them, but I love writing them. Fridays give me a chance to talk about a variety of different topics, and as everyone who knows me knows, I often have a lot to say. This week I had a “What’s Up With Us” post on the schedule – which is an easy but fun post to put together.
But I just couldn’t go there today. Not in the face of so much violence and sadness and grief.
Don’t know what I’m talking about? That’s part of the problem. That’s why I am writing this post.
And no, dear reader, I am not blaming you. You are not the problem – but the fact that just three short days after another school shooting, one that left two fifteen year students dead, we have already moved on and almost forgotten that it happened is a problem.
And by “we” – I mean the collective we. The media, the citizenry, the country. In fact, this morning I did not see the story mentioned on the news at all. These children have not even been laid to rest yet, and the story is already old news.
I rarely post about current events on this blog (unless it’s part of my “What’s Up With Us” series) because that’s not the focus of my blog. And most of the time current events don’t help with happier or healthier living. I definitely don’t want the blog to get political or even too serious. And I certainly I don’t want to offend others or alienate readers.
I do, from time to time, tackle serious topics – like my mom’s death – but those stories are personal. They are the story of me. And while everyone might not agree with my perspective or understand what I am feeling, those posts are unlikely to inspire anger and animosity in others. I really want to avoid that at all costs.
But sometimes, something happens, that really makes an impact on me. It sneaks its way into my thoughts and settles in my heart and I simply can’t ignore it. That’s what happened this week.
The event that prompted this post is the school shooting that occurred in Kentucky on Tuesday morning. I first heard about the incident shortly after 8 a.m. as I was preparing to teach for the day. The alert came across my phone notifying me of a school shooting in Kentucky.
I felt the familiar lead in my stomach as I braced myself for the details. How many children this time? I wondered. How many have died? How many more are injured? Where is the suspect? How are those poor parents going to cope? What effect will this have on the other students? Why? Why? Why? Why does this keep happening? Are my kids safe at school?
I didn’t have time to delve into the story because I was going to be bombarded with fifth graders at any minute – ten and eleven year old students who, for that day at least, it was my job to keep safe and educate.
Make no mistake, that is exactly how I view my role as a teacher. First priority: keep all the students safe. Second: hopefully, teach them something too.
Isn’t that sad?
I certainly didn’t have that perspective when I first started teaching almost 20 years ago. Back then I thought my primary role would be to teach students, both formally and informally, though lessons, words and actions, how to be productive and independent citizens. I was prepared for fire drills, natural disasters and even the occasional custody dispute that turned ugly, but I did not undergo any training about how to handle active shooters or students trying to murder one another. Nor did I have any reason to think I would need such information.
Although Columbine had already happened then (2 teens went on a shooting rampage in their high school in Littleton, Colorado in 1999, killing 13 and injuring another 20 before killing themselves), school shootings were not a common occurrence back then. In fact, Columbine was kind of considered an anomaly, which only served to make it’s horror even more horrific.
Schools had adopted additional safety procedures after that tragedy – closed campuses (which would not have protected the kids at Columbine because the assailants were fellow students), security officers, [in some cases] metal detectors, active-shooter training, etc…. but in the years following Columbine there just were not many school shooting incidents. Thankfully.
Today, however, it’s a different story. I was shocked when I learned that Tuesday’s shooting in Kentucky was the eleventh school shootings this year.
This calendar year!
This year, that was only 23 days old when the shooting happened. Eleven school shootings in 23 days!!
That statistic shocked and horrified me! Especially since I hadn’t heard about most of them.
So far, there have been approximately 50 school shootings this academic year – which is about ten per month. According to one statistic that I read, since 2013 it is estimated that there is about 1 school shooting per week. If that’s the case, then we are definitely on an upswing this year, because the academic year is only about 20 weeks old.
So maybe it’s not quite an “epidemic”. The number of children killed at school is actually relatively low. I counted 129 people who died in school shootings in the last 5 years. I am pretty sure that that number is statistically insignificant.
But we are talking about kids’ lives here. Not statistics. As far as I am concerned, 1 child being killed at school is too many.
Plus, research shows that when serious violence occurs in schools it has a profound effect on all the students. Not surprisingly, depression and anxiety increase, attendance declines and test scores go down. It’s hard to concentrate on school when you are terrified and grieving. So the devastating effects of this violence extends well beyond the victims and their families.
And yet, I don’t know what’s being done about it. And what’s more, I don’t even know what can be done about it. And that’s what terrifies me.
School shootings seem particularly gut-wrenching. We send our children to school to learn and grow and become better people. We send our children to school because we must – it’s the law. We expect them to be safe (which should not be an unreasonable expectation) and to come home at the end of the day better than they left.
We don’t expect them to be gunned down in the hallway or the cafeteria. Or to go directly from school to the morgue.
And yet, that’s what happens. More than we all want to admit.
I am no different. If I had not been watching the news yesterday morning and seen an interview with Bailey Nicole Holt’s mother I probably would not have written this post. (Bailey was one of the fifteen year old victim’s who died on Tuesday). I probably would have filed the Kentucky shooting away with all the other horrible things that happen in the world on a day to day basis. But seeing this mother’s raw grief and imagining the pain she must be feeling right now really hit me at the core.
Perhaps it’s because Bailey Nicole Holt and the other boy who was killed, Preston Cope, were 15 years old. As was the shooter.
My son is also 15. And maybe that one simple fact really, really brought this story too close to home.
I simply don’t know how I would go on if my son did not come home from school today.
Fifteen is a hard age to parent. I don’t mean because of hormones or teenage temper tantrums or trouble-making or undone chores or unkempt rooms or any of that stuff. I have a great kid. If he’s not in school, he’s usually either at home with a guitar in his hand, at band practice in our friend’s garage or on the tennis court.
But he is growing up and becoming more independent. Sometimes he wants to go to the movies. Or the mall. Or, for some reason beyond my comprehension, the local gas station, Sheetz.
And every one of these events brings along with it a new first – getting in a car with a teenage driver, going to a concert alone (with friends but no parent), staying at a friend’s house who I don’t know, playing a gig at someone’s private party….
The list goes on. Each day he seeks to exercise his independence and see a little bit more of the world.
And each day I am forced to juggle my maternal instinct to keep him safe, with the natural and normal process of letting him go – little bits at a time.
There are just so many things to worry about in today’s world. I spend so many hours each week praying that he makes it through the day safely.
The one time I should not have to worry is when he is at school.
But worry I do.
We have never had a major incident in our district, knock on wood. But that doesn’t mean we can’t. Or that we won’t.
And I have no idea what we can do about that. I am not proposing (or opposing) gun control or other security measures. I don’t know what the answers are.
I’m just a mom. A mom who is terrified by the amount of violence in the world. A mom who sends my heartfelt sympathy to those other mothers, the ones whose children are not coming home. A mom who desperately wants to see these school shootings stop. A mom who is genuinely fearful every time she lets her children out of her sight.
I don’t know exactly why this one event has shaken me so badly. But I have not been sleeping. And when I do finally fall asleep, my dreams are nightmares. I feel scared and anxious and unsettled.
And nothing even happened here.
For today at least, I can hold my kiddos tight. And hope that nothing bad ever happens here.
Hope. Normally such a beautiful word. But isn’t there more that we can do than hope?