We try not to have the news on when our kids are around. They have enough to think about without adding sex scandals, kidnappings, and athletes beating their girlfriends to the list. However, when last month’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School happened, I got lost in the TV as the kids were getting ready for school. I held back tears as reporters interviewed students on what they’d witnessed, and my oldest son, a very observant and insightful nine-year-old, sat next to me and asked what was happening. I told him that a former student took a large gun to school and hurt a lot of kids. I quickly wiped my tears, turned off the TV, hugged my son, and finished packing lunches.
A few days later, my son told me that they had practiced an “active shooter” drill that morning. He said they pushed their desks against the door and moved to a corner of the class while their teacher turned off the lights and closed the blinds. He said they had to sit very quietly. The image took my breath away and made me nauseous at the same time. I asked him how he felt while practicing the drill, and he said he thought about the kids in Florida.
My son shared that he and his friends were discussing how they felt about going to a school where the teachers were allowed to have guns. He shared that a friend had heard that arming teachers was one of the ways the government was thinking of stopping school shootings. Again, the nausea hit. I was grieved that these conversations and practices were becoming “normal” to my son. Fire drills, earthquake drills, and active shooter drills were being lumped together like they are all of the same category. A conversation about the Portland Trailblazers can switch to a conversation about Mrs. Brown having a handgun in her desk like it’s no big deal.
The Walk Out
In the past weeks, the school district sent out letters to parents regarding the dates of the scheduled “Walk Out” events, and the policies surrounding them. I had left the letter in the car and had not given much mind to it in the midst of an abnormally busy week. My son found it on the way to school, and asked about the event. I explained that students from around the country were planning to leave their classrooms for 17 minutes, in honor of the 17 students who were killed in Florida. He sat quietly and I could see his wheels spinning.
On the morning of the Walk Out he mentioned to his dad that he was thinking about participating. I was out all morning with appointments, but my husband and I agreed the decision to participate or not was entirely up to our son, but either way, he needed to be with an adult and act respectfully.
At 10 a.m. I got a message from the school. My son had decided to walk out of this classroom, but needed a parent to sign him out before he could leave the office. My heart filled with pride and then sank as I realized I wouldn’t be able to get from my appointment to the school before the 17 minutes ended. By the time I was able to call back, the event was over.
Empathy and Courage
When my son came home from school, we had an incredible conversation about his Walk Out experience that day. He shared that even though he couldn’t leave school, he felt that he was still able to honor the 17 students by sitting in the office. I asked him if he was sad he couldn’t be outside with all the other students who participated and he said, “There was only one other kid, mom. It was me, and one other kid.” He asked questions like, “Why didn’t we talk about it at school today?” and “Why does it feel like we aren’t allowed to talk about what happened in Florida at school?” For the rest of the evening he kept commenting, “These are important things and all the kids should know about what happened. We should be talking about it.”
My third grader doesn’t know the difference between the labels of conservative or liberal. He’s not up on the gun control laws or the arguments surrounding them. He simply caught a glimpse of the ugliness of the world, and it was enough to bring him to action. As a mom, I am working hard to teach my son the importance of kindness and inclusion, but I am so inspired by the empathy and courage I see rising up in him, as well!