What They Remember
I can remember exactly where I was during the Columbine massacre.
It was almost 19 years ago. I was sitting in the living room of our Ottawa duplex, packing to move, and watching the live coverage of an unfathomable horror unfold before my eyes -- the media speculation about who and why juxtaposed against tearful pleas from parents being held back behind the lines.
I remember watching terrorized kids' faces at the school windows. I remember feeling myself screaming inside my head that this couldn't be happening, couldn't be real, that it must be some horrible mistake -- my brain reeling at the terror locked inside the school on my screen and identifying with those students and all they had to live for, not yet being a parent and only being a few years beyond high school myself.
Now I identify with those parents.
My heart rages at the lives brutally cut short and weeps over children wanting their mums and dads, surrounded by crumbling teen bravado and flying bullets -- their potential ended because an angry kid with a gun wanted to make a statement -- at families with their guts ripped out who will relive this pain every single time there is another school shooting.
19 years ago, and what has changed?
19 years ago a generation of people said "Never Again", and yet this feels even more common now than it did then. The Columbine survivors are now in their 30's -- many parents themselves. I cannot fathom how recent news reports must impact them and inform their parenting.
I know how it informs MY parenting.
I tell my kids I love them every single day when they leave for school. I try to have it be the last thing I say to them as they go out the door. If something awful were to happen -- at school, on the bus, at home, when we're apart from each other -- I would want to know that this was the last thing I said to them. I would want to know it was the last thing they heard from me.
I encourage my children to be kind, to be generous of spirit with other kids -- to use words first, when things are difficult, and to seek help from adults when something is bigger than them. I teach my kids to report risky behavior and perceived threats to responsible adults who can take on the burden of addressing them directly. I have taught my kids the self-preservation concept of "putting on their oxygen mask first", so they are better positioned to help others.
I stuff down the urge to bubble wrap my children because insulating them against the world does them a disservice -- I cram it all into a tight little ball of acid that sits burning in my guts and keeps me awake at night when I hear about school shootings. It is our job as parents to teach them to navigate the unnavigable, to have the resilience to forge their own ways forward when things are tough -- to listen to them, and help them figure out how they feel and support them with their emotions.
I try my best to do all of this without burdening them with my fears so that they have the freedom to be kids.
Parenting is not for the weak of heart.
The fears and "what if's" can be crippling. We do our best to prepare our children for whatever may come, and yet bad things happen. I want my children to know that, if I could, I would swoop in like an avenging angel, banish Evil and rescue them.
Barring that, I want my kids to remember I told them I loved them -- no matter what, with no conditions, forever and ever, and completely.
On a wider scale, I hope beyond hope that this generation of children and young adults -- the ones being used as cannon fodder by gun lobby groups and the NRA -- use their experiences on the front lines, in their classrooms, and enact a much needed change in gun culture and toxic masculinity.
We need to listen to them -- they have experienced these horrors firsthand and have lived through and are living through the aftermath. No group is better positioned to take this monumental battle on than they are.