Recently a mom posted a photo on social media of her 3-year-old daughter standing on a toilet seat. At first glance it’s a cute photo of a toddler doing the strange and amusing things toddlers do…until I read the caption and my heart sank, just as her mother’s likely did. The little girl was practicing her ’emergency protocol’ she learned in preschool. She was rehearsing what she should do if there is an active shooter and her preschool is on lock down. Hide in a bathroom stall, stand on top of the toilet and be as quiet as she can be so no one knows she’s there. Ugh.
Gone are the days of fire drills and safety patrol. Now there are metal detectors, bomb protocols and school lockdown drills. Toddlers are taught lifesaving methods like hiding in cabinets and bathroom stalls. Our kids are growing up in a very different world than we did…and apparently it’s not just cause of STEM, common core, smart phones and hover boards.
When I was a kid, I remember my world being small. I remember feeling safe to wander the neighborhood, ride my bike to school, play ghost in the graveyard after dark. My biggest worries were what lunch table I sat at.
In high school there was pot and beer, breaking curfew and going to parties with no parents home. Now there is cyber bullying, teen suicide, cocaine and lord knows what else. How do you raise your kid to make the right decisions, be a good student, be a good PERSON. These thoughts cross my mind often, but they aren’t what scares me.
What scares me is the sad reality that we live in a world where mass shootings are now commonplace. It’s not a matter of whether it will happen, it’s when and where the next one will be.
I remember Columbine vividly.
I was in high school when it happened. I remember being shocked and affected in the way that you hear some horrible story on the news and think about how it could have been you. I remember in the weeks following having early dismissals for bomb threats. I remember thinking they were obviously a prank and never thought more of them than a free afternoon to hang with my friends.
And then life went on.
It was a freak event. A troubled kid. A horrible thing. It was not going to happen again.
Since Columbine there have been so many more incidents. So many more lives lost. So many more reminders that our kids are growing up in a world that is bigger and scarier than the one we knew growing up.
Maybe it’s because of social media and being inundated with information in a way that was avoidable in the past by simply not picking up the paper or turning on the evening news. Maybe it’s because I live in a big city and grew up in a relatively sleepy suburb. Maybe it’s because I pay attention. No matter what the reason, it is scary nonetheless.
The day after the Orlando shooting I was at the gym taking a shower after my workout and had a full-blown panic attack thinking about what would happen if there was an active shooter. How would I get to Avery a floor away. Would the kids club attendants know how to keep him safe? Was there anywhere for him to hide?
We took Avery to his first movie and before the movie began, I found myself anxiously looking around the theatre trying to identify the quickest exits, the safest plan…just in case.
I fully acknowledge that I am a fear based person. I worry about things that I otherwise shouldn’t and I tend to be very anxious in general. But, the reality is we never know what will happen. We can’t keep our kids safe. And that is scary.
When we first brought Avery home from the hospital, every breath, grunt, wiggle, cry was overwhelming. When he spit up the first time I called the doctor. When he got is first little sniffle I called the doctor. When he fell and hit his head the first time I brought him to the doctor’s house. When he slipped under the water in the bath for less than half a second I called the doctor. When he ate his first foods and got a little rash I called the doctor. When he ran away from his babysitter in the park and she lost him for 15 minutes, I bought every safety book that exists and wouldn’t let him so much as look away from me without holding my hand for weeks. (Yes. I am ‘that mom’. Yes. Our pediatrician is a saint for dealing with me without judgment. Yes, we did go to his house at 6pm on a friday night, and yes, he did give Avery an exam in his foyer while his kids did homework at the dinner table and his wife got ready for their date night.)
All of these things seemed so scary…but the truth is as our kids get bigger, their worlds get bigger, their problems get bigger, and our fears get exponentially bigger.
In 2 short months I will send Avery to preschool. I will let go. I will have to trust. I will convince myself that he is safe and happy and protected. And while I know those things are true…deep down I will also know that it is the beginning of me losing control, his world getting bigger, and his safety bubble starting to dissipate.