I have something to say about the tragedy of Sandy Hook Elementary School, but I have to be honest: I’m not sure saying anything will make me feel any better. For the last two weeks I have been consumed with the news and with sorting through it all. That’s to say nothing of what the community and families are still dealing with and I am certain they are reeling from it still. I am positive they just want the world to stop spinning and for time to stand still. At the very least, they want it to go backwards. But it is the news and media saturation of guns and safety and blaming schools (!) and the mental health issues that are making it hard for a mom like me to sort. I’m not dealing with the level of mental health in my family that has been portrayed everywhere lately, but I am a mom who happens to work in a school and that combination has paralyzed me.
In fact, I have taken a bit of an unplanned hiatus from writing anything other than the book I am working on and have checked in on my own personal social media ever so much more infrequently. Let me tell you what that Friday afternoon was like for me: my school social worker came to my office to say there had been a shooting and she was monitoring kids in our inside recess reading lounge when she saw it as a message from a friend. She brought her phone, live-streaming CNN on it, to my office as I was eating lunch and organizing work for the month of January (I hit the ground running in the new year so that I can register all the incoming 5th grade students). We sat in horror as the news unfolded, albeit incorrectly, and tried very hard to resist discussing it the rest of the day. It was, after all, Friday, and we had the weekend to learn more. By the time I got home around 5 p.m. I was waiting for a guy that my boyfriend, The Cuban, invited over to teach him how to sharpen knives.
I know, right? A stranger was coming over to take all the kitchen knives out and sharpen. I’m telling you, it was a bizarre day.
The Cuban expected me to sit in the kitchen and watch and also entertain this gentleman (he truly was, too, a sweet older man) but I sat on the chair, numb, and he tried being gentle with me and reminding me that at 7 we had a date to go to our local theatre company to watch It’s a Wonderful Life on the big screen. I had looked forward to this for weeks and it was, by God, going to get me in the Christmas spirit! I had my cookie party with girlfriends already, taken out the decorations in preparation of getting our tree, and this was going to be something of a special occasion.
That didn’t happen. Instead, I complained of a fake-headache and excused myself from the men talking about knives (while the rest of the world talked about guns) and crawled into a ball in my bed. By the time the sweet knife-sharpening gentleman left, I was done. Done in the sense that my head pounded and now I had a real headache from all the tears. I didn’t want to move and my lovely boyfriend knew it. He left me alone, went out to grab some dinner for us, and came home to stroke my hair while I lay in his lap.
I felt very much like the picture I’m using for this post of a young Ethiopian boy who is praying. This has been my posture for much of the last 2 weeks.
I cannot wrap my head around this one. In my 20 year career in public education I have witnessed school shootings, Columbine, and Virginia Tech. Each time a school is targeted I go over our safety plans in my head, I reassure parents and students that we’re doing our best to keep them safe, and I hatch imaginary plans in my head about how to escape should the need arise. That’s the stuff that’s been all over the news and my own son, the only one left in public school, has reacted much the way I have in this. We’ve read enough articles, seen enough of the news, and felt more helpless than ever.
That’s not what you want to hear from a public school administrator, is it? You want to hear that we’ll take any help we can get and that we’ve got armed police officers in place and that we’ve tightened up security. Parents want to know of our cohesive plans to discuss things like this with their children and many school systems sent out letters to ease the minds of the parents. I wish I could ease your minds, but mine has been too consumed and numbed by this latest tragedy. Even a friend of mine, on Facebook, wondered about all the schools medicating children and blamed teachers for medicating them. That was just too much for me and I lost it in his comments.
I wish I could feel better about this, but right now I can’t. All I can do and ask for is that parents, communities, and our world be a little more gentle with those of us who work in schools. Really. We just can’t take you beating us up right now.
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