I wrote this the day after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I couldn’t finish it until today…
I first reacted to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting as a mom of a 15 month old little girl. Though she is not old enough to go to school yet, I still pictured her, 6 years old, with pigtails, wearing a pink dress and tights, excitedly carrying a backpack with a gorilla on it--her favorite animal. I transposed myself as one of those parents, frantically looking for my daughter after hearing the news. I imagined the horror of waiting and waiting, only to find out my baby was murdered. I’ve been trying to stop my mind from going to that dark and unfathomable place, but I can’t. And I just hug my baby girl so tightly. She looks up at me with such innocence, happily doing the sign language sign for “gorilla!” in an effort to get me to read her favorite book, and I am saddened again at how this community’s children have lost their innocence forever. And every kid who hears about this has lost a part of his or her innocence as well. I want to snap freeze my daughter at this age and never expose her to cruel realities in the world. I want her biggest concern to be whether or not I remembered to give her her gorilla at nap time. I know I can't shelter her forever. I just want to.
I then reacted as a school psychologist. What would I have done if I were at that school that day? Would I have thrown myself in front of the shooter, as the brave school psychologist and principal did? I replay the scene in my head, happening in my school, and processing how to make it not happen. I replay it at my other school, with a different cast of characters, planning out how to prevent it. I then play it in my head from the little information I know about the campus at Sandy Hook. Each time, I think of how I could protect the children. I am sure the school psychologist acted on her instinct to protect. It’s what we do. I can only imagine if I would have done the same. No one knows such things for sure.
My job as a school psychologist has exposed me to the dark underbelly of under-resourced schools and an overly-armed community. I have worked with kids who have murdered. I have worked with kids who I fear will murder someone without proper mental health services. I have called the police when there are kids with guns outside my school, only to have them say they’re too busy to come unless shots have been fired. I have found guns in backpacks of 11 year olds, because kids are afraid of walking to school. I have seen chronically traumatized kids come to school, numb to the near daily gunfire in their neighborhoods. I have seen mental health cut from our schools. I have been in districts where school psychologists, social workers, and counselors have impossibly high caseloads. I have lived through lockdowns at our schools, where gun violence on the streets threatens our safety in school. I have seen gun violence strike in all communities, including in my home state of Colorado. And this week, I have seen the footage of parents in Connecticut burying their children and my heart breaks.
I also reacted as a sister and friend. My sister is a principal, and I have so many wonderful teacher friends. I know every one of them is a hero, and not just in times of extreme crises. The teachers at Sandy Hook showed us all what true heros teachers really are. It is humbling to know that in our society, our teachers literally would take a bullet for our kids. So can we stop bashing on them and blaming them for societal ills please? Can we take pause and reflect on how amazing these people are? Can we treat them with the respect they deserve, instead of demanding more and more from them and not giving them any resources with which to do more?
Finally, I am now reacting as a citizen. I feel pressed to do more. Do something. Anything. I know that “More mental health and less guns please” is a battle cry I’ve had in my heart for a long time. It’s simple, and I know it lacks the nuance and complexity of the issues, but it is from that basic premise I think we can make reasonable changes in our society.
I can only hope that the public rises up and asks our government to do more to protect our kids. Like President Obama said, “ Our first task is caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right.”