5 Lessons Learned After Talking To My Son About School Shootings

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Kindergarten is an extraordinary event in a child’s life where many big steps are taken by little feet. It is a moment in time that is awash with everything new—new faces, new interactions, new rules, and new routines. We embarked on our public school journey in 2017 when we sent our one and only baby, Garrett, off to a building full of strangers, entrusting them to teach him well and keep him safe. In those early days, when I would pick him up from school, he would be brimming with information, relaying to me as much as he could, as fast as he could, about all the things he’d done in class. Most of what he shared was the typical kind of thing I expected to hear. Stories of daily lessons, experiences in classes, and reports of friends he thought were funny or even out of line, were the typical kindergarten tales delivered during our car ride home.

One afternoon as we were chatting, he described an event that absolutely gutted me, “Mom, we had to practice hiding and being quiet today.” My heart stopped. I was instantly terrified, but as anyone with a kindergartener knows, sometimes the stories can be a bit dramatic and oversold, so I played it cool. Over the next few minutes, I delicately questioned him about this occurrence (so as not to give him cause for concern while I silently panicked inside). He went on to lightheartedly describe a scene where his teacher must lock the door, shut off all the lights, gather all her children together to hide, and keep them silent where they were instructed to remain this way until they heard the principal’s voice on the intercom with an “all clear” thus giving them direction to resume class.

He explained this to me as if he were explaining the basic process for walking down the hall properly because it was as normal to him as lunch or recess, “We do this sometimes to practice in case a stranger is walking around the building.” This wasn’t our kid being dramatic or overselling an event, this was our kid describing his reality. They call these practices Intruder Drills, but we need to be clear, our baby was practicing Active Shooter Drills in Kindergarten where his lovely twenty-something teacher was charged with rehearsing gathering the children of 21 families and hiding them in the dark, behind a locked door, with the weight of their lives on her heart. This was our first jarring realization that this was to be our world. Fast forward to present-day 4th Grade in 2022, and absolutely nothing has changed. Strike that. Some things have changed.

While our ten-year-old is still the imaginative, wonderful little boy he’s always been—a child who reads about science and nature, gathers wildlife in his hands, plays in the ocean, complains about bedtimes and vegetables, builds LEGOs, and still talks to us nonstop about everything he encounters in a day—Garrett has grown. He now has the intellectual capacity to understand a society that has NOT grown. He will no longer be pacified with the explanation that Intruder Drills are simply meant to protect him from “a stranger.” He is living in the time of the deadliest school shooting in Texas history where children of his age, in his grade could not escape unimaginable tragedy.

We will not be brushing this under the rug with the hope of preserving his innocence for a few more minutes knowing so many have had that opportunity ripped from them. We are no longer shielding our kiddo from the obscenity of school shootings because if children his age are dying for our inability as a society to move forward, they deserve to know what they are up against. Without our ability to physically protect our son at school, Garrett will gain an understanding of the tools he needs to fight for his life in the worst possible scenario. He needs all the facts to be properly equipped for an attempt to survive an unimaginable tragedy…because, as of now, we are simply lucky this hasn’t been us…yet.

boy with his kindergarten teacher
Courtesy of Megan Gazda

Raw Data

Upon learning the tragedy at Uvalde was transpiring, I made the decision to turn on the news and put our son on the sofa next to me so we could absorb the horrific details together as they unfolded. This is how I learned what our son needed from us to form his understanding of this horror. We both stared at something neither of us could fully process as real life. We cried, we held our breath, we held on to each other, we felt sick—all the while knowing these feelings and these emotions would be nothing compared to what these victims’ families were about to endure. His opportunity to experience even a little bit of this in real-time will help to arm him with some of the tools he needs to participate in a life that is seemingly offering this up on regular basis.

boy in blue class of 2030 shirt
Courtesy of Megan Gazda

“Where Were His Parents?”

We got in early on the news coverage where there were still many so unknowns surrounding the chaos. As the basic details unfolded, so did specific questions and specific opinions. This was intense, fully dialed-in parenting, as painful and explicit details were flowing over us in the absence of the usual safeguarding and gatekeeping we like to invoke. We became unfiltered. However, the first of these statement/questions coming out of our kid, which was perhaps the most poignant to me as a mother who is raising a deeply empathetic child was, “An 18 year old is not a man, that’s a kid. Where are the parents of this guy?” At 10-years-old, our son was immediately able to recognize that anyone who could commit these egregious acts upon humanity lacked an upbringing that would ensure he would not. If a child can spot the effects of the absence of love in another human’s life, how are we as a society, so quick to turn away from it as a solution?

Family at school
Courtesy of Megan Gazda

Meet Them Where They Are

When our Kindergartener was huddling in the dark under the pretense of “a stranger walking around the building” we were grateful that this was all he knew of the situation. Delving any deeper into the real motives behind these events at that age would have been too much poison for his innocent mind to comprehend. Not every child is the same, not every child can process this in a way where they can maintain a healthy mind and we certainly are not even sure if we’re doing the right thing by thrusting all of this information upon our babe at 10, no matter how necessary it feels. We think we know our kid, we think we know his mind, we think we are meeting him where is at in life. We know he needs more than he’s been given up to this point in order to equip him with the ability to stay as safe as he possibly can. We are taking the position that if he understands exactly why they practice Intruder Drills in school, he’s keener to understand the importance of their being taken very seriously because this is not going away.

mother and son at school
Courtesy of Megan Gazda

Kids Are Not Snitches

Recently, Garrett discovered some alarming photos on the topic of guns and war that were saved on his elementary school’s server by another student. Instead of instantly going forward to an administrator, he hesitated and reported this to us first. He knew what he’d seen was wrong and wanted to tell the teacher what he discovered but was afraid of being labeled a snitch or a tattletale. While he ultimately accepted our encouragement that he would be wholly supported by any adult for coming forward on such matters, and did as much the very next morning, his hesitation to do so was deeply troubling and strangely difficult to combat. We don’t know where the negative stigma for speaking up is rooted, but the danger that lies within it is unconscionable.

In the early stages of self-awareness and coming to understand participating in and working within the confines of society, our kids struggle with forming healthy peer relationships on every level. Something we cannot foster, or allow their friends to encourage, is staying silent. While hiding and being quiet may very well save our children physically should the need actually arise, hiding and being quiet as a society is what got us here. We’ve reached a junction where we cannot keep 4th graders alive, let alone preserve their innocence. We need to make a clear distinction that speaking up is the absolute right thing to do when it comes to keeping their bodies and their minds safe. We need to honor “if you see something, say something” and its ability to prevent tragedy and trauma on many levels. They need to use their voices and we need to listen to the things they have to say.

son at boy scouts
Courtesy of Megan Gazda

Make Good Humans

A lot is expected of parents. This is the life we have chosen. It is not easy to grow these people and it was never meant to be so. In addition to hoping they make it home alive from school each day, there are no less than one million obstacles to navigate as we prepare them to be on their own in the world. It has gone, it is going, and it will continue to go by very quickly. No matter how much time we have with our kids, no matter our family dynamic or situation, no matter how much money we have or don’t have, it is easy to not raise a killer. Hug them. Hold their hands, hold their hearts, hold their faces between your hands as you look them deep in the eye and plead with them to understand how much they are loved. Fill their cups with your time and attention and give them an unshakeable sense that you are there for them whether they need you or not. Talk to your kids about stupid things, smart things, boring things, just keep them talking. Ask them questions and answer theirs because if they don’t get it from you, they will get it from somewhere else or they won’t get it at all.

We have to recognize that we are a society that has not done enough to protect our kids. What we have done is create an environment where elementary school children must practice Active Shooter Drills on a regular basis, where perhaps no amount of rehearsal could truly predict a positive outcome in the worst-case scenario. We HAVE to overcome our past failures—our failures to protect our children, our failures to allow them their childhood, our failures to give them a voice when they can’t speak on their own, our failures to listen to their needs and meet their needs and rear them into adults who could not dream of walking into a school to commit murder. It is never too late to change. We CAN do better if that is what we want.

parents with son
Courtesy of Megan Gazda

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Megan Gazda of Houston, Texas. You can follow her journey on Instagram, and Facebook. Submit your own story here.

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‘She looked at me with no emotion. ‘It just happens. All my life it just happens.’ My 11-year-old is numb.’: Mom shares harrowing conversation with daughter after Uvalde school shooting

Active Shooter Drills Are Now Just Part Of School Curriculum, And It’s Not Normal

‘Tell me this is all a dream and we will wake up laughing about how crazy this nightmare is.’: Mom’s gut-wrenching reaction to Uvalde school shooting

‘I didn’t want to drop her off today.’: Mom reacts to Uvalde school shooting

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