My favorite part about summer break used to be beach trips with my kids, and lazy mornings baking in the kitchen. But right now, my favorite part about summer is there are no school shootings. There are shootings, sure. Parades, malls, and everywhere in between. But there is an unexplainable feeling as a parent that some of us get when school starts back. We choke back the tears. We linger in the parking lot a few minutes longer. We circle the school’s block occasionally. Every time the school calls, our heart sinks. The first question we ask of whoever is on the other end of the line is always “is everything ok?”
I feel guilty of hoping for that “yes” every single time- because I know so many others are not so lucky. And as a mom of a young child with type 1 diabetes, I am acutely aware of the added danger he faces in a potential violent situation. In kindergarten my son experienced his first lockdown drill just a few days into the school year and what happened broke my heart. As the teachers turned out the lights and gave the children instructions, my son’s continuous glucose monitor began to alarm. He was having a dangerous low blood sugar in the middle of an active shooter drill. He described to me what it was like to quietly sit under a window in the dark while eating his gummies under his mask- after all, it was the height of the delta variant of covid 19. As the minutes slowly passed, he hid his monitor under his shirt and attempted to muffle the sounds. My heart sank as I realized, I forgot to teach him how to turn off the volume. He told me that he was panicked, and worried that if there really was an active shooter, he would be the one to ruin it for everyone because he was the one making the noise. What an enormous weight for a kindergartener with a complicated diagnosis to carry.
That afternoon, he cried in my arms. “I tried so hard mommy. There were just so many ways to try to stay alive. I tried so hard.” And he was right. Between diabetes, a pandemic (we were in the middle of a surge in 2021), and now a potential active shooter, there were just too many ways to try to stay alive for one little kindergarten boy. And that was only a drill.
During the drill, the school nurse (who is amazing by the way) watched him closely from outside his classroom door. We texted each other back and forth and waited for it all to end. She went in when she was able to, once she did, relief flooded me. The policy for schools is when the students are practicing or engaging in a lockdown situation- the door stays shut. Even if a young child is experiencing a medical emergency- the door still stays shut. The school did everything it was supposed to. I would also like to add that we love our school. They are incredible partners and the whole place feels like such a loving and welcoming community. But the afternoon after my son graduated from kindergarten was the Uvalde massacre. And I confess I could not bring myself to send my children for the last two days of school that year. I kept them all at home. Not because I was irrational or scared- but because as a parent, sometimes this is all too much.
Whether you are a parent of a medically marginalized child like I am, or just a parent of a healthy school aged child researching bullet proof backpack liners and GPS watches, I just want you to know that I see you. I am you. You are not alone.
I am not sure how exactly I will gain the strength to send my kids back to school, but I will. And I will pray, and cry, and surely round the block occasionally to ease my anxious thoughts. Because when you love someone, you do everything you can to champion their flourishing and keep them safe. I hope as we start the year with a range of emotions and a range of experiences that we can see each other’s humanity- really see each other. I daydream about the day when our school yards are once again unarmed, and our children can laugh and play without looking over their shoulders. I am praying for the day where these kids change the world for the better- because I am convinced that at this point, they are the only ones who can. I will be cheering them on and doing everything in my power to keep them alive in the meantime.