After the Parkland shooting, a fire grew within me that I knew would not die out any time soon. A parent-teacher conference was held one week after the shooting, and as I stood in front of members of the administration and fellow parents, I began to cry. And through my tears I looked at them and said, “I never thought I’d say this here but I don’t feel safe sending my kid to school right now, and I don’t know what to do about it. I do know that we need to do everything we can so that what happened in Parkland won’t happen at our school or at any other school for that matter. How can we be a part of the solution rather than stand aside and do nothing? Our children are collectively deciding that they aren’t going to be the ones who do nothing, and we have to follow their lead. We have failed the children of this country already and that has to change now.” When everything went silent, I realized that I wasn’t the only one with tears in my eyes or fear in my body, and that we were all connected in that moment.
This time, thoughts and prayers would not be enough. This time, it was different. I started to have nightmares about what I would do if I confronted a shooter in my kids’ school or a public place. I found myself not sleeping much, and I didn’t even have a child that was connected to that Parkland shooting, or any other shooting for that matter. I was imagining my kids being in that same position, huddled in a corner hiding from an armed shooter, playing dead if they had to and watching their friends die. I’d imagine the unimaginable, the thought of one of my kids being a victim of such unspeakable violence. These thoughts would not leave me alone. My feelings of anger, fear and frustration would not leave me alone. That made me wonder, how many other people were also feeling this wave of PTSD in our country?
MY FEELINGS OF ANGER, FEAR AND FRUSTRATION WOULD NOT LEAVE ME ALONE. THAT MADE ME WONDER, HOW MANY OTHER PEOPLE WERE ALSO FEELING THIS WAVE OF PTSD IN OUR COUNTRY?
I started a conversation with my kids to see how they were doing. I have two daughters, a 15-year-old and an eight-year-old. They go to a very progressive K-12 charter school, and we think of the community as our extended family. It is a place where we have always felt safe, included and valued. So when I asked my 15-year-old how she was feeling since the shooting happened, her response really surprised me. I asked her what kind of drills they’d been practicing in their school, and she told me she was only familiar with the fire and earthquake drills and that they hadn’t practiced a lockdown drill since the fall. She explained to me that the only class she feels safe in is her art class because her teacher had gone over the drill so thoroughly and took the time to answer questions of concern. She said that if she were in any of her other eight classes that she would not know what to do or where to go in their five story building that only has two stairwells and no PA system. She said, “There’s nowhere to hide Mom, we don’t have closets or bathrooms in any of our rooms." She started to imagine everyone flooding the hallways and the stairwells in a panic with no one knowing what to do. At this point she was crying in fear, a word I have never associated with our school community. Again, this made me wonder who else was feeling this way across the country. Were all kids walking into their schools and sitting at their desks, planning their escape routes from the what ifs, instead of focusing on learning?
Will it take us all imagining the unimaginable to create the change that is needed and to make our kids safe? That is what some of the parents who lost their kids in the Parkland shooting have said, that we all have to imagine the unthinkable and know that it could happen to any of us. And yet, how do we move forward and not become paralyzed by the fear? For me, my answer was to dive into activism.
WILL IT TAKE US ALL IMAGINING THE UNIMAGINABLE TO CREATE THE CHANGE THAT IS NEEDED AND TO MAKE OUR KIDS SAFE?
To move through the emotion, fear and anxiety I began to talk to people every day about what we can do collectively. I started attending meetings of organizations in my area working towards improved gun regulation. I made calls to congress; I attended rallies and marches; I used art to help kids express and share their voices, and started working towards building a culture filled with more kindness towards one another. I now do a little something every day. I owe it to those kids in Parkland, and I owe it to the parents. Because once I imagined it happening to me and made myself feel it, I realized that is how empathy and compassion arise and how change is made.
I now know that my emotion born from fear is what connects me to the parents across the country, all the way to Florida. I too will not rest until I see positive change towards common sense gun laws and the creation of true safety in our schools. I will not rest until my 15-year-old no longer feels fearful about going to school, and “lockdown” is no longer a word on my eight-year-old’s vocabulary list. To battle my fear and my anxiety about all the things I’m not in control of at this point, I am focusing on those things that I can contribute every day. There is no better time than the present to get involved, connect with others, cry together and face our fears together. This fire inside me is burning bright and showing me the way, and for that I am grateful.