‘Mommy, why do people shoot kids?’ We were sitting in bumper to bumper traffic. There was the usual driving game of guessing animal sounds and hearing about the giant slug he found at school, when suddenly my newly turned five year old son asked from the back seat this heart skipping question, just a few short days after the latest horror show at the church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. I completely froze, and physically willed back the tears from betraying my voice.
Hearing those words come out of my sweet innocent child’s mouth broke me instantaneously.
I was heartbroken and angry, and I had no idea how to answer this little being who looks to me for answers. While I’m typically pretty good at rapid fire, somewhat logical, responses to his continuous questions, nothing of any sense or comfort came to mind to tell him.
It’s unclear where exactly the information was coming from in his little brain. Perhaps he had heard something at preschool or at child watch at the gym. It’s also possible that he caught part of a phone conversation at home. Lately I’ve had more than a few heated exchanges about the time being long past for sensible gun legislation. On those thoughts I have many, but people far more knowledgable than me have powerfully voiced that call to reform many, many times over. So here I share just my own experience trying to keep it together in front of my kid when the answer to his question feels infuriatingly hopeless.
As I am typing this sentence, my phone has alerted to yet another mass shooting. This time, in Northern California at a school.
I don’t have the heart or the emotional capacity to read the details yet. But I suddenly have the sickening remembrance of the thought I had when beginning this post. I thought that writing in response to a mass shooting that had already occurred a week ago and that would be a month old by the time this will be published would hardly seem relevant in this climate. And then I reasoned with immediate disgust that such a thought would even occur to me, however true, in all likelihood another shooting would happen before the end of the month. It has.
Friends, how have we become this broken?
What, if anything, will it take for us to fix this all too frequent and familiar story when it seems no body count is high enough and no victim young enough to spur even the slightest change. And just what is it exactly those of us with young kids are supposed to say when asked these horrible questions? Explaining ‘evil’ is hard enough. It was just a short year ago that my beautiful little boy wondered aloud ‘if bad guys just needed cookies?’ Those fleetingly innocent days seem a million miles away from the boy before me who wants an explanation for bad people in the world who hurt kids and how grown ups are going to ‘stop them right mommy?’
I have no satisfactory answer for his insistent questioning. Especially considering the painstaking safety measures cradling almost every other aspect in his carefree little life. He knows why he rides in a car seat, wears a helmet, and gets shots at the doctor’s office. He understands why swimming lessons are important, and why he must look both ways before he crosses the street. He has learned the necessity of all these precautions which are important to keep him as safe as possible. So how then must it have sounded to him, my feeble attempt to reassure him with an explanation of the statistically low chance of encountering every parent’s worst nightmare. That’s what I have for you son. ‘It’s statistically unlikely it will happen to you, so try not to worry about it.’
Forgive the journey through this dark space when we’re entering into the most wonderful time of the year. When no one, including myself, wants to think about mass shootings or the eight children just killed in Texas right before this holiday season. Just a few days ago, a friend reminded me that it was not long before Christmas when twenty children were killed at Sandy Hook. I clearly remember that day five years ago when that freckled face little boy was a newborn nestled in my arms. I sobbed all day and night pulling his tiny body closer to me thinking with some relief, that at least something would have to change. I wouldn’t have to worry about this when it was time for him to start school because things would be different by then.
Five years later, things are not different. They are horribly and shamefully the same.
Let us enter this holiday season with all the gratitude and joy it deserves. Let us be merry and bright. And may we also remember the families whose holidays will never be the same. Then let’s take that remembrance and DO. SOMETHING., because we’re moms and we, of all people, know how to roll up our sleeves and get things done. We’ve helped do it with car seats, food labels, drunk driving, smoking, and the next thing that should bring us together across any and all divides is the common goal of making our communities safer for our kids.
My holiday wish is that 2018 will be the year that moms across this nation come together and collectively say enough, so that our grandchildren never have to ask such a question.