By Lisa Barr
I can’t turn off my TV, and long after my husband fell asleep that first night, I researched everything about the Newtown Massacre. I kept walking upstairs, and peeking at my sleeping teenage girls (whom I’ve been bitching a lot about lately – oh that ‘tude). But my babies, are at home, tucked in, safely sleeping.
As parents, we tune into the tragedy and think, Thank you God, that it wasn’t my child. We watch the faces of those parents in horror, awaiting the news that will shatter their lives. We learn about the alleged killer — with the typical profile it seems these days — brilliant, a “nerd”, different, quiet, not accepted, perhaps left out, keeps to himself — a loner. “Personality Disorder” is the New Age Gone-Postal terminology for these young psycho-killers — the movie theater “Joker” could easily have been interchanged with 20-year-old Adam Lanza, who took out his personal deep-seated pain on our children, innocents who were gunned down like dominoes.
It’s all so inconceivable, and yet, it’s happening … and these days, too often. It feels like once every few weeks a school, a mall, a movie theater — those places which are supposed to be our safe zones — have now become the new domestic “terrorist” battleground.
I’ve always said that the Crazies here are far worse than the Bin Laden Clones that we fear. Without getting too political, guns should not be sold to minors, the mental history of gun purchasers must be thoroughly investigated, and there should be longer wait periods to examine criminal records, at the very least. The whole Internet ammo purchasing is an out-of-control arena. But the reality is no matter how many assault rifle bans we put into place, those who want those weapons, will get them. Those who want drugs, can get them. Those who want to rob a bank, can stage a heist. That’s just how it goes — the bad guys always find a way to get what they want.
A friend from Israel, a fellow journalist, sent me a picture of “Why US-style tragedies don’t happen here.” (Believe me, Israel has more than its fair share of sicko terrorist tragedies to make up for it). Anyway, the photo depicts a class of very young students walking in a line. All of the kids have had basic what-to-do-in-case-of-a-terrorist-attack training, and the teacher behind them has an Uzi strapped over her shoulder. In other words, if a terrorist enters her classroom and starts spraying her kids with bullets, the teacher who has been well-trained in defense, can at the very least fight back.
The amazing heroics of the educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School — and in particular, the teacher who used her body as a human shield to protect her kids, was an American example of doing the best she could with nothing at her disposal (apparently, not even a lock on the door) to be able to protect her students. She held her body against the door to keep it shut, and took the bullet.
Having lived in Israel for seven years as a reporter, I did learn a few things that I want to pass on to you. And again, all of this is just my opinion — I’m not an expert, nor have I had any training in child psychology. But I remember having dinner at a friend’s house in Jerusalem, and earlier that day there had been a terrorist attack on a bus — parents, dozens of children, and the bus-driver were blown up. The couples’s three children had joined us in the living room watching the Breaking News, listening to the commentators, viewing distraught parents waiting to find out the fate of their children — all of it — was in full color in front of a 5, 7, and 10 year old. I wanted to stand in front of the TV and protect my friends’ kids from the images. But that’s not the Israeli way. Israel and her children know exactly what’s going on, and from a very young age they learn how to manage themselves in an unpredictable situation.
But that’s not how it works here. Most kids — especially in so-called safe suburban enclaves — are shielded from reality and violence. I believe in the uncertain times we live in — we need to reassess. YES, soothe your children’s fears, but also give them tools to react if you are not there.
Lockdown drills at school are extremely important. Superintendents’ press releases and school district intentions of reexamining schools’ emergency/crisis policies are indeed reassuring — but I’m afraid not enough.
I sat my 13 year old down the day after the tragedy, and said, “What are your thoughts about what happened, honey?”
“So scary, Mommy.”
Yes,” I agreed, and we then discussed details of what transpired at Sandy Hook. I answered her questions simply and with what little knowledge I had. At the end of our discussion, I said, “I know this is hard to hear, but if you ever find yourself in a bad situation, and I’m not there — here’s what you need to do. And I’m telling you this, not to scare you more — but to prepare you. If you are in a movie with your friends, at the mall, in school, and some crazy person starts shooting — never stand in the corner and beg or cry for mercy. People who are crazy have NO sympathy or care for your feelings. You have two choices — if there is a getaway, an opened door — particularly someone ushering you to safety through a door or a window — you take it — do not turn around. Most importantly, if there is no way out, or no adult there to help you — Play Dead. You lie flat on the ground, close your eyes, do not cry or move, hold your breath. That will increase your chances of being okay. Do you understand me?”
“Yes, Mommy.” Her eyes were unblinking. “Can we not talk about this anymore.”
It killed me 1000 times over to be that blunt, but I know my daughter heard me. I know in that one minute of truth — my voice logged somewhere into her long-term memory. And I felt a little, perhaps a tiny, morsel of control.
Because that’s what this massacre is — Uncontrollable. A sick killer or a terrorist (a suicide bomber in particular) have the identical objective: to kill as many as they possibly can — to make a statement.
This is hard talk with your children. And you may not agree. This is NOT ‘American talk’ to our kids. This is not the American way I know, or how I was raised. We all want to cushion our kids, keep them away from bad news, and ensure that their lives are happy, carefree, and innocent. Most of all, we want them to sleep at night. On a side note — a friend of mine with a six year old said she did everything to shield her first-grader from the news, because her daughter is “scared of her shadow.” Here’s the problem to keep in mind: Many of the girl’s six-year-old friends have OLDER siblings who do get wind of the news. And this information always trickles downward, and eventually your “protected” child WILL hear about it. My philosophy: Best that IT comes from me.
The new reality is a world where anything — I mean anything — is accessible via the Internet. We, in my opinion, must be proactive with our children.
It’s all in the communication. And what I say to a 13 year old differs from what and how I would say it to a kindergartener — the delivery varies according to age, but the message is the same. If Mommy is not there, here is what YOU can do to protect yourself.
It’s not much to go on, I know, but drastic times, call for drastic measures. We need to be aware that one demented person’s “success” leads to another, and another.
Let us light candles in those babies’ honor. Let us mourn with those parents and families whose lives were just torn apart forever. But most of all, let us ignite the very real conversation with our kids — don’t shy away from the hard issues — in your own homes, and at your schools.
Knowledge is power. Better to empower your children in a “powerless” situation than to leave them clueless and defenseless. Your voice in their heads may just make that difference.