“If anyone ever comes into your school and uses a gun — play dead.” My kids looked at me shocked at what I’d just said. “I’m serious, pretend you were shot and play dead so the bad guys leave you alone.” That’s what I said. Good or bad, I needed to say it.  I stiffen when I think my babies were forced to hear such harsh words from me about gun violence.

Last year my kids’ school went into ‘shelter-in-place’ mode, not to be confused with a lock down, but for them it was still scary. It wasn’t a drill it was real.  From what I understand, ‘shelter-in-place’ is a protocol that the school follows when there is police activity in the vicinity. In our case there wasn’t any hostility aimed at the school so they weren’t in a lock down but someone burglarized a house across the street and the school reacted.  I was happy that they took the necessary precautions to keep our children safe but I was also gutted to know that my innocent kindergartener and third grader were scared.

“Mommy, a code red is when the bad guy is in the school and a code blue is when the bad guy is outside,” my daughter told me that day. Again, even though ‘shelter-in-place’ mode was neither of those things (thank God), she was on a roll telling me about all of the different procedures the school had and clearly she knew way more than I did although I wasn’t sure if she was correct. I didn’t know what to say to her so I listened pretending not to be horrified about all of this.

For many parents in the age of mass shootings, we worry every day that our children might not come home from school because of gun violence. I feel like a fool because although I don’t want it to be this way, I don’t know how to change it. I’m not about to rally a mom march on Washington to change gun laws. I wish I was that dynamic of a person. Although the right answers evade me I do feel that creating sensible laws to reduce gun violence shouldn’t be political. Moreover, I think we need to educate our kids and ourselves properly. I don’t think just having the procedures in place is enough.

I can’t remember exactly why but I swear when I was little, we hid under our desks in a drill once and it was scary.  Hell, fire drills made me nervous. I went home and told my mom about it. She calmed me by saying, “your school is preparing for a situation that would almost never happen.”

I couldn’t say the same thing to my kids that my mother said to me. I wanted to but I couldn’t because, rational or not, the likelihood of a bad guy shooting up their school seemed possible. Plus, we were talking about what had happened that day so it felt like a teachable moment. That’s why I told them to play dead.

I hate that my children have to live in this world of code reds and code whatevers. I wonder what this lack of innocence will do to their adult selves. Will they always look over their shoulders or become callous individuals? It isn’t fair that my kids had to spend that time at school in a ‘shelter-in-place’ mode, away from me and scared. The most unfair thing of all is that there are really parents out there who have lost their children tragically to gun violence and I’m so lucky to have mine.

I admire the families of children lost in the Sandy Hook Tragedy who have started www.sandyhookpromise.org It is a non-profit organization designed to prevent gun related deaths. If at least one person goes to their website and makes the promise described there then we are one step closer to a change. They have a plan to address the issues in a tangible way which amongst other approaches, includes ways to talk to our children about gun violence. I could use some education on that topic because clearly I don’t know what to say to them.

Every day when I drop my kids to school I give them a kiss no matter what. Even if they’ve aggravated the crap out of me all morning. I give them a kiss. I kiss them because I’m a mother and in the backs of all mothers’ minds we hope our children will return safely home.


photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/96453774@N00/4959219824″>Between the Spirit and the Dust</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>


Holly Rizzuto Palker


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