By JENNIFER STEUER
I am counting down the days until the triplets start the sixth grade – their first year of middle school! I love summer vacation because spending time with my kids makes me happy, but after a while we start getting on one another’s nerves and the nervous energy starts to build.
School supplies start to pile up in a laundry basket because, well really, where else would they go? The back-to-school flyers are studied with the same intensity as the Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Prime Day pre-sale information. In all this excitement and planning, I have a fear that starts in the pit in my stomach and just grows. In these days of increasingly frequent mass shootings, I’m not the only one with this anxiety. Is my kids’ school next? If I go to Walmart, am I coming home?
Olivia, Benjamin and Rebecca have been fortunate to go to an elementary school where there has been no violence. They had practice lock-down and shelter-in-place drills. There was the incident a few years back when the Albany Police Department needed to swarm the area with assault rifles and told us to shelter in our basement until the area was secure. From what we were told, there was a report of a body in a basement next door to the school, as well as a person with a gun. This went on for two hours while the police secured the building next door and our sheds and vehicles. It turned out to be a hoax. Our family still talks about it because even though there was no real danger, there was real fear.
As a mom I have serious anxiety. I have a boulder sitting in my belly when my family isn’t together. On July 22 of this year, a stray bullet went through a wall and hit the arm of a 3-year-old child who was napping in his Albany daycare. Read that again. He was napping. I can only imagine how that mother felt when she received the phone call. Now, imagine how this child’s mom feels when he goes to the babysitter again. She will never be able to leave her child somewhere else without serious anxiety. Eight individuals were arrested and three guns recovered by the police. A random bullet. A sleeping child. I cried, and I don’t even know this family. But I thought if that was Benjamin getting hit by a stray bullet, probably would never let him out of my sight for the rest of my life.
On Aug. 3 in El Paso, Texas, there was a shooting in Walmart. Twenty people were killed 2,000 miles away while I was shopping for school supplies at our Walmart. When I saw what had happened, my head was spinning because it was Walmart! There was no reason that it couldn’t have been ours. My fear is real. So many of us are afraid and trying so hard to keep ourselves going about our business. We fight the fear as we shop for groceries and school supplies. We fight the fear as we send in the packages of pencils and facial tissues. Why don’t we just fight instead?
At the start of a new school year, the last thing I want to do is think about school shootings. I don’t want to think about them, but I will. While getting Olivia, Benjamin and Rebecca ready with cool new color-coded school supplies, I will remind them about the lessons they learned at Montessori. They will not only learn more about science and math, but be reminded about lockdown and shelter-in-place drills. It isn’t a cheery dinner topic, but we will talk about it then as well. We have to do our best to keep them safe. At the end of the school day, I just want to see their smiling (Wait, tweens don’t smile!) faces.
Harlan and I look at each other often and begin a sentence with “Back in our day…” and the kids will giggle because we are so old, and things that happened then are positively prehistoric. We talk about how we used to go out and play without cellphones for our parents to find us. We never worried if our moms were going to come home from grocery shopping. We never worried if we were going to come home from school.
When school starts, I know we will smile and wave as Olivia, Benjamin and Rebecca leave for the day. I know the anxiety is never going to go away. The giggles and smiles are what keep me moving forward. The precious faces of my children are what I see when I close my eyes.
Peace. For our children.