Three years ago, I sent my first baby to kindergarten.
I wasn’t the mom sobbing on the drive home from school that day, I was the mom saying “thank the Lord for school!”
Lu was excited to go to kindergarten, and I was so happy that she was there and ready to learn and make friends.
It was 10 days into the school year when I finally had that mom moment where I cried about my baby being in school. It was the day she told me about their first intruder drill. My six-year-old explained it matter-of-factly to me.
“If a bad man gets in the school, we have to lock our classroom door and hide. My spot is behind the bookshelf with Ava. We have to be really quiet so no one can find us.”
I pulled my van to the side of road and cried. I thought about quitting my job and homeschooling my children. I felt absolutely helpless. Much like I feel today, three years and dozens of murdered children and teachers later.
I’ve watched the news and social media, I’ve talked to countless parents who are like me — sad and angry and afraid. And we feel helpless.
Helpless when we leave our babies at school, helpless when we wonder if there’s anything that can fix this problem, helpless when our kids ask why they have intruder drills, helpless when our kids find out about the latest shooting and ask us why, and whether that can happen at their school.
What do you say to a child? What can we even tell ourselves?
We look to our leaders to find a way to solve it. We yell and scream about guns and mental illness and security at schools. We argue and retreat further into our echo chambers of politically like-minded friends. The divide gets larger, and more people die. We wait for someone to fix it, but what do we do?
I think about that reflex I had three years ago — homeschool. Retreat from this crazy world and protect my babies at all costs. And I realized that reaction may be the seed that started this terrible thing in the first place.
When you close yourself off and think only of your people, when you can’t see your neighbors and friends and community at large as important enough to consider. It is the “Me and Mine” mentality.
These kids who slip through the cracks and eventually do something this terrible need someone to notice them early. Not just one somebody, a lot of somebodies. Whether it’s just loneliness or isolation or true mental illness, they need to be seen and cared for. They need us to pay attention and help before it gets that far.
Our government and our law enforcement have a duty to do everything they can to protect us, and they certainly need to step up to the plate, but they can’t do it alone. Anyone who is sitting at their keyboard or in front of a camera screaming about politics and not considering what each of us can do is missing the point.
You can’t legislate kindness and compassion. That’s where we ordinary people come in. We have to pay attention, we have to not only teach our own children, but also care about other children, all children.
I bet every parent reading this can name the “bad kid” in their children’s classes. I can. Most of those “bad kids” are going to grow up and be perfectly fine. But there are a few who won’t, and nobody will notice them until it’s too late.
We must hold our government responsible for their failings in this matter, but it’s time to look in the mirror. What are you doing? Are you teaching your kids to pay attention to those who are left out? Are you showing them how to include and encourage? Do they know an adult to tell if they see someone hurting?
It’s time to give up the “me and mine” mentality, because in the long run, that’s what will protect you and yours. Give up a little bit of your time to help someone else. Volunteer in your kid’s classroom, coach a kids sport, teach at your church, invite new kids to join in. When you see someone left out, do something.
If everyone who is angry, sad and scared took a little bit of responsibility for encouraging and nurturing our children, rather than waiting for our government to do it alone, at the absolute worst, we are taking care of the kids who are left behind. At best, we are saving children’s lives.