We used to think we understood why school shootings happened. Someone who’d been bullied his whole life would become obsessed with revenge and open fire upon the popular kids he had grown to hate. Although it was so much more complicated than that, it’s what we had believed to be true with Columbine and Virginia Tech. We thought we could prevent shootings by ending bullying.
But then Newtown happened.
Every parent in the nation stopped, frozen in place, incapable of believing that anyone would want to harm tiny children for no reason whatsoever. Many of us cried for days, sometimes with body-racking sobs, as we imagined the profound horror the parents of Sandy Hook Elementary were experiencing. We saw photos of the children’s perfect faces, and felt like we couldn’t breathe.
The next day, parents across the country had to choose whether we were going to send our own kids to school. There was no specific threat, just the newfound awareness that there were people like the Newtown shooter in the world, and that was enough to tempt us to pull our children from school. But most of us didn’t. I chose to send my kids to school that day, and cried after dropping them off.
I had that choice again today, as a parent in Los Angeles, and once again I chose to send them to school. I smiled as I dropped them off, and prayed for their safety as I made my way home.
While my kids’ school wasn’t closed, every school associated with Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) was shut down because of a terrorist threat. Other parents opted out of sending their kids to the schools that stood open across Los Angeles and Ventura counties, and I understand why. Sending kids to school in America today can be terrifying.
As it turns out, the threat against LAUSD was a hoax, but don’t be mistaken: the threat to our children is real. As my friend’s teenager said, “Mom, this is the new normal.”
My kids practice “bad guy” drills that have given one of my son’s nightmares. In the days after the drills, he wakes crying in the middle of the night, asking if it’s ever possible to run away from a bullet.
We don’t want this to be our new normal, but most kids consider it to be so. On social media today, teens and older kids said things like, “Yay terrorism!” when they found out they had no school.
As ghastly as this sounds, they don’t understand the profound disrespect of celebrating this day off, because they cannot comprehend the America we used to live in — the one where mass public shootings were shocking and rare. This is the generation who entered school after Columbine and who went back to school the day after Newtown. This is the generation that has no memory of the Twin Towers standing in the Manhattan skyline.
As parents, it’s important to remind them that this is not how the world always was, and that we can have hope for a future where kids aren’t senselessly shot dead. We can’t put our heads in the sand and ignore the fact that this happens, but we also can’t let our kids lose their hope that there is a different way — a better way — for America to be.
As one LA mom, Kelly Holliday Foster, said on Facebook: “Terrorism is: depriving our children of their fundamental right to an education. I am in TOTAL support of LAUSD closing all campus today for my children’s safety. My fear grows as to how many days our children will miss in the future due to threats like these.”
Another LA mom, Michelle Villemaire, agrees, writing on her Facebook page: “Truth is, it’s not a snow day or a shopping day.. It’s a mutherf***ing school day. And the next time this happens, we are having school. At my house, in the garage, wherever… all are welcome. No matter what kind of terrorism it is, it won’t stop our kids from learning.”
It may take a revolution of parents, but we’ll make sure these shootings don’t become something our children believe they have to simply accept.