Monday, December 17, 2012

911 to CT: A Timeline of Tragedy from Toddler to Teen

“The planes flew into the buildings, Mommy!” she said excitedly.

The date was September 11, 2001. Those were the first words my 2 year old baby girl said to me when I picked her up from daycare that horrific and tragic day.

I stopped in my tracks, because I was not prepared for the comment. Of course she had heard adults talking about the terrorist attacks. Perhaps she even saw the frightening images on television. I can’t be sure, and because she was so little, I couldn’t have a full-fledged conversation with her.  I optimistically prayed she was too young, her intellect too limited to know exactly what had happened. I hoped she thought it was just Bob the Builder gone bad. And as I watched parents with older children struggle with the hard conversations, I secretly felt relieved I did not have to do it.

She was just two, so these were the days when her eyes, mouth, entire face lit up upon seeing me. She ran with free abandon into my beckoning arms and she held my hand for safety. She implicitly  trusted me to care for her.

Today, she’s 13, and I’m more often watching her back as she walks away from me yet again, out into a scary world, where killers might be hiding in a movie theatre or in her school or on a street corner.

My heart nearly seizes up at the realization.

Following 9/11, I knew one thing for certain.  I realized, then and there, I could no longer fully protect her. Too often she was out of my sight, my reach, my heart, and I had to trust the greater village to care for her. The thought held little comfort.

In the subsequent years, there have been other travesties, more horrors, and more mass shootings.  As they mount with greater frequency, I find them harder and harder to try to explain. One of the most difficult tasks I’ve ever had as a Mom was to look into my daughter’s cherubic face, she of innocence and relative ignorance, and pop her bubble with the words, “There are mean people and there are mentally sick people in the world. Sometimes innocent people get killed.”

Now, eleven years later, there’s another mass shooting, and this time, it’s different because the majority of the victims are young children - shot to death at school - a place generally considered a safe place.

Following the Sandy Hook massacre on December 14, I struggled with the urge to go pick my daughter up from school. Not because she’s not safe in our little white bread, affluent community, but because I needed to see her with my own eyes, to hold her like she was a 2 year old again. I fight my need to do this, because I don’t want her to think she is unsafe at her school. In fact, I want the day’s normalcy to continue as long as possible.

The hours slowly tick down, and when I do finally retrieve her after school, she greets me with a small smile. I roughly grab her into my arms and squeeze her with all my might. She looks confused askance of me without saying a word. I reply, “I just needed to do that,” and then, I asked if she’d heard about the school shooting in CT. She replied nonchalantly, “Oh yeah. We discussed it in Social Studies.” Period.

And, Poof! The onus of having the initial discussion had been stripped from me. Her teachers had already discussed it with her class, and she didn’t really have much commentary.  In fact, my teenage daughter was more concerned with going to the library book club with her friends.

I expected tears and sadness and questions. What I got instead was easy acceptance and a bit of apathetic shoulder shrugs which cut my heart to ribbons. Somewhere in the growing up process, I realized my sensitive, caring daughter had become hardened and immune to real-world violence and senseless death.

I can easily find many things to blame it on. Her friends play violent video games. She names “Die Hard” and its sequels her all-time favorite movies. She reads books like “The Hunger Games,” in which violence is a central theme. Truth is, just like other young people, she’s been exposed to so much simulated violence and death through various media, she is numb to real death.

To me, this is not acceptable. In this situation, and considering my daughter’s age (13 ½), I cannot subscribe to the notion that ignorance is bliss. I will not shield her from this evil.

She doesn’t know it yet, but tonight, she and I have a date, and it’s not going to be “fun.”

In fact, tonight, it is my mission to make her cry, to make her think, and make her pound her fists in rage.

I want to her to feel this grief. I want her to be outraged at our archaic, asinine gun-worshipping culture. I want her to know these deaths are real, that these were living people who had dreams and families and futures.

On the agenda? We’re going to watch President Obama’s memorial speech. We look at pictures beholding the sweet faces of the children who died. Together, we will read the stories of heroic teachers like 27 year old, Victoria Sota, who lost her life to save those of her students.

And yes, we’re going to talk about the shooter, and about mental illness, and the failures of our “system.” And, hopefully, we’ll discuss ways we/she/others can help find ways to make all children safer in the future. We need my daughter and her generation to feel this tragedy, to ask the hard questions, to be the change in the world. We gain nothing by burying their heads in the sand.

I hope, I pray, I plead that maybe this time is different...because this time there are twenty tiny caskets holding the most innocent of the innocent. Let’s honor them by doing something meaningful to affect change. I’m starting with my kid.

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