So, now it is time for the next confession—at times like this, what is a parent to do? Newtown, CT is really not that far away. I have friends from college who live next door in Monroe. I wander the community and drive around, admiring the scenery, the small towns, the homes, the strong neighborhoods that seem a New England institution. I pitch in when I am there, painting sets for the local theater summer camp, attending the kids’ sporting events, whatever is going on in these close-knit towns when I arrive. Last summer I attended a dedication in memory of the Petit family, murdered in a home invasion robbery, and met the father, the lone survivor. And at that time, I wondered what I would do if I was raising my family there in Connecticut, explaining that horrific incident to my daughters, why their classmate had been killed, how things like this could happen.
And I couldn’t find the words, so when I related the details of my trip to my children afterwards, I omitted the story. The brutality of such an attack left me speechless. But then Friday arrived and the world of mom sanitization was left behind. Two of my children learned of the attack in Newtown during class, as it popped up on the news feeds on classmates’ smartphones, tablets and computers while logged into email. To me was left the task of making sense of the tragedy, why and how and who could do such a thing and would it happen here, always back to the why.
And again, I had no words. Was it the result of the shoot-everyone video games I refused to let my children play, that someone could value life so little that they just fire repeatedly? How could someone hurt so much they felt it reasonable to take so many innocent lives before taking their own? What drives a person to strike out with such hate, to follow such a destructive plan? Having a daughter taking Mandarin, it was immediately compared to the Chinese man attacking an elementary school with a knife that same day, attacking but without the sheer devastation due to the lack of a gun. Is gun control the answer? A National Rifle Association supporter voiced his belief that if teachers were allowed guns, it wouldn’t have happened. Do we equip our schools with guns? Where do we stop? Surely we can stop before crossing the line of linking such a tragedy to the lack of God in school; but no, the line is crossed and politics inserted into the story. Meaningless words and arguments in a time of great grief and anxiety played out in the media over the weekend, doing nothing to ease the pain.
I don’t even have the words for myself—nothing to soothe me as a parent that this could not happen here. I recall the Poway Unified School District locking down neighboring schools last year, my daughter’s included, for a domestic violence attacker. The irate parent who had to be escorted off campus by all of the security guards at another school my children attend. The violence raging throughout our communities, threatening to spill over and affect the innocent at all time. What is a parent to do? How do we move on from this? Where do we start to balance individual rights with protecting our children? How do we comfort ourselves as a nation, much less those parents facing unbearable loss right now? Who has the words?
And how do we convey to our children that the world is a dangerous, chaotic mess, with a thin veneer of safety sugar coating the surface? We are so used to watching the news here, looking at what happens in the international arena and being so grateful that we live here, not there, where so many horrific things happen to the innocent, that we forget it can happen here as well. At an age where children believe anything is possible, faith in parents fixing anything abounds, and trust in any smiling face is easily given, how do we give them the tools to protect themselves? How do we protect them, in the face of such events? The words fail me, how about you?
Valerie Brown is the mother of three girls.