feature image photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images
We thought, naively in retrospect, that things might change after Sandy Hook — that the literal mass murder of small children might impact even the coldest, most NRA-lined heart in Washington. We were wrong. Since the Columbine shooting in 1999, little has been done to prevent the reality so many teachers, students and parents have been forced to accept about the kind of violence and bloodshed this country is willing to tolerate in our schools in the name of our white supremacy-rooted “second amendment rights.”
Merely ten days after the horrific mass shooting of 10 Black residents of Buffalo by a white supremacist in a grocery store — what was then the deadliest shooting of the year so far — another mass shooting took place in Uvalde, Texas, a close-knit community of 15,000. It was every parent, student and teacher’s nightmare: a gunman, armed with an assault weapon, his pathway of destruction uninterrupted by the armed officers outside the school, entered a fourth-grade classroom and killed 19 children between the ages of 9 and 11 and two teachers. An hour elapsed between him entering the school and his eventual execution by a tactical team, during which time cops waited outside, doing nothing. This has not stopped Republican lawmakers insisting more school “security,” rather than gun control measures, is what will stop future tragedies from occurring.
In the aftermath of this horror, we wanted to hold space here on our little gay website for the feelings so many parents and educators have been feeling. What are we stuck on? What actions are we planning? How have we talked to our kids about this and how has that conversation changed over the course of our children’s lifetime? What can we do — to feel better or even just cope, to help, to escape — in the face of the compounded hell we’re trying to move through? We invite you to share your answers to these questions — these are ours.
– Riese & Laneia
Sa'iyda Shabazz, Writer
Mom of One, 36. Los Angeles, CA.
My heart is broken. I’m angry and sad and scared and I know nothing is going to change. I remember sitting on my couch and hearing the news coverage of Sandy Hook 10 years ago. I wasn’t a mom yet, but I had lots of kids in my family and I was heartbroken for them. Now I’m a mom to an eight-year-old. He’s about to finish second grade. He’s only about a year younger than the kids who were murdered. It’s so scary to be a parent right now. If your kid isn’t worrying about catching Covid, then they’re worrying about dying at school. Every time they practice “safety drills” at school, my son tells me about it. I can hear the fear in his voice, even though he’s trying to remain calm and keep a brave face for me. They call them safety drills to not scare the kids, but hello, the drill itself is scary! The fact that they even have to commit these things to memory is fucking scary. My kid has anxiety already, I can only imagine what must go through his head as he’s practicing hiding in a classroom being completely silent for fear that a person with a gun could come into his classroom and blow his head off.
As a parent, I’m furious that this is still an issue no one seems to actually want to fix. The solution and suggestion is donate and vote, and I really want to ask “what is that going to actually accomplish?” Because these politicians (Dems included) don’t want to actually put themselves on the line and fight. If those 26 lives in Connecticut didn’t change their minds, the 21 from Texas aren’t going to either. And that makes me FURIOUS. We’re living in a country where my kid is being told that having two moms is bad, but it’s okay for an 18-year-old to buy a military assault weapon and shoot a class of fourth graders and their teachers. I shouldn’t have to feel grateful that I was able to walk my son to school this morning, and I shouldn’t have to feel a pit in my stomach until he gets picked up later. It’s simply not fair. Enough has been enough. I don’t want thoughts and prayers, I want action. And I don’t think it’s ever coming.
Lily Alvarado, Writer
Literary Educator at a Public Middle School, 21. The Bronx, NY.
It’s hard to come up with words in a situation like this. No language can encapsulate every thing that is happening and the feelings that follow. I will say that I’m exhausted. We’ve been witnessing tragedy after tragedy after tragedy. Nothing has ever come from it in the past and I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if no action comes from this.The United States is a country that was built from violence. This country has continued to operate on violence and it does not matter who is at expense. Those in power claim they care but their lack of action shows otherwise.
As an educator working in a public middle school, I always feel that it is my responsibility to be honest with students about our reality. Many adults underestimate the capacity of wisdom and understanding the youth hold. Having a dialogue is so important because we can’t allow the murder of 19 children and two adults to get swept under the rug. It is important because this reality is not sustainable and more lives will be disposed of if we don’t stand up. It is important because we can’t start anywhere unless we use our voices. School shootings in the United States are common to a point where it’s almost normal. And that’s terrifying.
We shouldn’t be living in fear. I shouldn’t have to go to the school I work at and discuss ways of protecting ourselves and the kids we teach because of the possibility of someone breaking in and killing us.
One thing I try to do to cope is to limit my time on social media. The plethora of Instagram posts, tweets, and Facebook statuses amplifies the stress and anxiety I already feel. It’s frustrating to see people try to take advantage of tragedies like these for their own benefit. Stepping away from the screen and finding solace in the people around me somewhat helps with healing. But that healing can never fully come unless something is done.
Vanessa Friedman, Community Editor
Teacher, 33. Portland, OR.
What is there to say? Truly what the fuck is there to say? I don’t write that to be dramatic, but I just — I mean… right? It feels hard to put words together.
I’m a teacher. I used to be a nanny. I have spent my entire life working with or caring for children in some capacity. I hope in the next few years I’ll be a mom. But… why? Why on earth do I want to bring children into this hell? It’s really hard for me to square it all away at the best of times, but then a day like this past Tuesday happens and I just think — my god. And then I feel such fury, such devastation, such grief that so many parents and teachers and caregivers have just been living with this reality for so long. Just the obvious bluntness that in the United States, school shootings are normal. That the place we send children that is supposed to nurture and hold them is a place that they have to innately fear.
I teach online a lot, or I go into public schools for a few periods of the day to teach Creative Writing as a guest teacher (a “teaching artist”) in English classes, so I’m not as familiar with shooter drills as the other educators in my life are. I’m not as familiar with shooter drills as the children in my life are. Those sentences are disgusting.
Almost everyone I love is an educator or a student. I keep thinking about my mom telling me how one of her co-workers reprimanded her because she didn’t shush a preschool child who was sneezing during a shooter drill. A preschool child. A child. A baby.
My mom didn’t shush a baby who sneezed during a shooter drill. How can that sentence exist? How can we live like this?
Stef Rubino, Writer
High School English Teacher, 34. Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
I don’t know, man… I’m just fucking angry. I know people are going to read that and be like “All right, yeah, me too” but I don’t know if we’re all talking about the same kind of anger here. I feel angry all the time. At this point, anger is the undercurrent of everything I do and of who I am, but it’s not right that it has to be.
The U.S. is an settler colonialist, imperialist nation founded in blood through mass genocide and chattel slavery. I don’t expect it to be free of violence because how can it be without tearing it down entirely and building something else in its place? But when these events happen, it’s hard not to be frustrated that there are so many who are still not convinced this is the case. That in order for our culture to shift, we need to end it and make a new one. Personally, this is where I always get stuck… I just always wish I could pull a move out of Ren and Stimpy and pour the desire for revolution straight into everyone’s head. People can’t even talk about the young men who commit these acts (and the many people who helped them get there) in an honest way after so many tragedies because they don’t want to face the realities of the culture we’re living in. It’s hard, and I know that but I wish it didn’t take the deaths of countless kids and educators and people just going about their days for people to see that shit has never worked and isn’t working now. I wish they were willing to respond to that fact with more than just angry tweets and Instagram infographics and voting.
I’m a teacher and an organizer, which means I have a direct impact — be it positive or negative — on the people around me and my community all the time. It’s tough in times like these to keep it together, but I also don’t really know what else to do now. This morning, I cried in the shower and then cried again while I picked out what I wanted to wear and tied my shoes. I got in my car and cried after leaving the coffee shop drive-through, and I went into work to face my kids.
In my class, my curriculum is centered around explaining to and discussing the systems of injustice in this country with my students. We talk about the U.S. as it is and as it has been and what we need to do in order to change our current reality. We imagine and create better futures together. We don’t dream small or act as if anything is out of our reach. We discuss how to use our anger productively, and we remind each other that in the face of terror, it’s all right to give yourself some time to not do anything productive at all. Given all that I expect from them and all that we’ve done together, it wouldn’t feel right to tell them anything but the truth. So, I told them how I was feeling, I told them I’m here for them, and I asked them to remember all our conversations and to remember that our culture wants us to feel powerless all the time so that we’re too exhausted to fight back. And then we did nothing. I don’t mean nothing at all. I mean, I told them they were free to work on or not work on stuff, that they could watch Netflix, listen to music, talk to each other or to me, or just hang out. We took a break, and I think that was the biggest help for all of us today.
After today, my only plans of action are to keep working and organizing in all of the communities I’m part of in order to try to bring about real material change for the people who need it the most and to give money to any mutual aid funds, for Uvalde that I can find. That is where I try to focus my energy: to work against the culture of this country in all the ways I can and to get resources into the hands of the people who need it. It’s a lot of work, but I strongly believe that more people can commit themselves to doing the same thing and to making a commitment, a REAL commitment, to their communities to help figure out how to keep every person who’s part of them safe from suffering and harm. I just wish more people would do that even though it’s difficult and terrifying, and I wish they’d do it right now.
We deserve so much better. We’re all worth it — whatever it takes.
Amari Gaiter, Writer
English Tutor, 22. New York, NY.
I come from a family of educators based in Los Angeles. My mom, dad, uncle, great aunt have all taught in one capacity or another (my mother and uncle are both active teachers). I am also an educator, working with students both in the classroom and in one-to-one tutoring sessions. All of which is to say, I feel immense anxiety for my family and community members working in the classroom, extreme sorrow for all the children afraid to go to school, a place that should feel like home, extreme anger that we even have to be fearful of something as monstrous as this, and overwhelming despair for the beautiful lives lost to senseless violence yesterday.
Every time I see a picture of one of the babies and their teachers who we’ve lost I just feel sick to my stomach. I have been holding back tears for the past 24 hours, but I can feel them flooding to the surface now as I write out my thoughts. My mind and heart can not bear the overwhelming grief for all of the lives lost yesterday and for centuries prior as a result of the unnecessary violence that this country thrives upon. I can’t stop feeling angry about the conditions that have brought us to this moment — existing under a political ruling class that profits from all of this manmade suffering, from the unfettered spread of misinformation and white supremacist, patriarchal ideology, from the proliferation of guns that lines their pockets and campaign fundraisers. I can’t stop thinking about the level of soullessness that these violent systems are reducing people to — about the level of depravity and darkness a person must be driven to within to enact such suffering upon others, for these massacres to happen over and over again. I am subsumed by the sorrow that now exists in the hearts of the family members who lost their loved ones. None of this should’ve ever happened. This shouldn’t be happening. I feel so heartbroken.
Furthermore, I am so so so beyond the political games that the Republicans and Democratic leaders are playing in regard to gun control. Ban automatic weapons. In fact, demilitarize the police (they do nothing but protect ruling class interests, their property, and their power — the police officers who remained outside the school and failed to stop this horror serve as a testament to this fact) and stop enacting horrific imperial violence abroad while you’re at it. Stop caring more about your political agendas than people!! I am so infuriated by elected officials making policy decisions even beyond gun control—regarding issues like the pandemic, climate change, policing, reproductive justice, the housing crisis, etc. — that blatantly disregards the importance of life, of all of our lives! In the face of tragedy after tragedy, those in power double down on their choice to care more about profit than people. It is so blatant and it is disgusting. It infuriates me to think about how much better life could be, how many more souls would still be here with us, if it wasn’t for the capitalist, imperialist structures that sanction such violence. I hope everyone can wake up to the reality that we are the only ones that can save us; we can not rely on our “leaders” to do it for us out of some goodness in their hearts. They don’t care, and they can not make it any more obvious that they don’t care.
I have to remind myself (and may this serve as a reminder to anyone reading!) that we have no choice but to practice hope. We have a responsibility to carry love in our hearts. We have a responsibility to those we have lost and to each other still alive on this Earth to do all that we can to change things for the better. And to echo what others have written, we have to commit ourselves to building a better world.
KaeLyn Rich, Writer
Mother of a Kindergartener, 39. Rochester, NY.
We never shy away from talking about challenging subjects with Remi. One of her current favorite books is What Makes a Baby? and she has promised to keep the “swerm and egg” talk (not a typo) at home, not because it’s shameful but because it’s something other kids talk about with their own parents. (Please, please don’t let my kid be the one who introduces the concept of sperm to her kindergartenmates.) We talked about Daniel Prude’s murder when she was three years old. We talked about abortion earlier this month. We’ve talked about the genocide committed against the Indigenous people whose stolen land we live on. She’s five, so we talk about these things in a way a five-year-old can understand, of course, but we haven’t completely shielded her from things that are hard. I don’t know if it’s the right parenting decision, but it’s what we do.
On Wednesday, I had a whole bunch of things to get done, so I was up early and Remi joined me downstairs around seven in the morning. We chilled and I ordered delivery breakfast from McDonald’s because Remi loves McDonald’s and because we needed to go grocery shopping and I didn’t want to fight about the raspberry Greek yogurt she’s decided she doesn’t like anymore. We were sitting there on the couch, sharing a Big Breakfast with Hotcakes, and I was scrolling on my phone and came across the pics of the kids who were still “missing” and I started quietly crying. Thankfully, Remi was deeply focused on some nonsense show on her tablet and didn’t notice.
I didn’t tell her.
I tried to be a little more patient, a little more attentive. She’d been wearing the same tulle rainbow skirt (Yes, the one from Target.) all week and we demanded to wash it on Tuesday night, but I made sure it was ready for her on Wednesday morning. I bought her an orange juice and her favorite breakfast and packed things she likes in her lunch and I took her to school and gave her extra hugs and I didn’t let her see me cry.
It’s not that I want to protect her from hard things. It’s that I don’t want to steal her joy. How do you help a child feel psychologically safe when the kids who were killed are basically her peers? She goes to a public school in the city. Those kids are her and her friends. I am ready to talk about it if she brings it up. Or when she is older. They already do active shooter drills at her school, but her Kindergarten teacher thankfully calls them “emergency drills” and is very careful to not scare them too much.
And here’s the thing. It’s a privilege to be so deeply impacted by this but not, for example, the murder of George Floyd or Breonna Taylor or Daniel Prude. To have the ability to talk about these other hard things to Remi is, on some level, to be able to talk about things in the abstract. This is what’s different about the Uvalde shooting. Many people, white and cishet people, who don’t have to worry about the lives of their family members, are suddenly shook up and traumitized. Many people don’t have that privilege and worry about the safety of their kids and family members all the time.
It says a lot about the privilege we have that I got stuck here in terms of what to say to Remi. The truth is, I think about her safety and my safety as Asian women and my white nonbinary partner’s safety all the time. I think about it when we travel into rural areas, when Remi and I are out in public together, when we have to use a restroom as a family, when we have to stop for gas in an unknown area, and lately when we go to the grocery store. I know that the three of us are both much more safe than some others with less positional and structural privilege and also we’re at risk all the time. The fact that some others think about personal safety much less than us frustrates me and the fact that some others think about it much more than us enrages me.
At the end of the day, I chose not to steal her joy yesterday. For now, at least. And I know, and there are tears in my eyes again now, I know there’s only so long I can hold that line.
L , Director of Operations
Parent of Two, 41. Chandler, AZ.
You’d think after having this many versions of the conversation, it would maybe become easier to talk to my kids about the latest school shooting. Like maybe I’d have a formula by now, a script that I’d tweak a little each time. Or I don’t know, maybe I would’ve made some peace with what it feels like to keep looking at these same two faces throughout the years and know I can’t do shit about this. I don’t remember the first conversation I had with Slade (I could check the Wikipedia table of every school shooting in America since 2000 if I really wanted to find out though, couldn’t I?), but I do remember Eli’s. That was December 2012, when he was just one grade above the 20 kids who’d been killed in Connecticut earlier that day. I’d decided I wouldn’t say anything, because he was only 7 years old and literally what do you say? To a baby? I was wearing jeans older than him when I drove to his school that afternoon. But then he ran to the car and — indulge me for a moment, imagine it: stick-straight dark brown hair in a bowl cut, hazel eyes, soft round cheeks, a hand curled around each backpack strap against his chest, the worn out Vans whose replacements were already wrapped in kraft paper and waiting under a Christmas tree just up the road — he scrambled into the backseat, filling the whole space with that unmistakable tall baby smell of metal and petrichor and playdoh, and I didn’t know how I’d be able to keep it all in. And I mean it all, all of it: the promises, the terror, the love, the grief, the relief, the abject inability to protect him, to protect any of them.
You learn this neat trick when you have a baby who’s old enough to walk around in the world without you and it’s called memorizing what they’ve got on that day in case they’re abducted or shot to death in a classroom. Teachers will sometimes send notes home before field trips asking that you dress your child in a color they’ve assigned, so they’re easier to spot if they get lost. This is like that, except it’s about hoping you won’t need to rely on a DNA swab or dental records.
He’s 17 now and every morning I send him off with some version of, “Ok I hope you have a truly magnificently ridiculous day! Make good choices! Get nachos!” And I save “I love you!” for the very end, somewhere between him hoisting himself out of the car and shutting the door, and every goddamn morning, every Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday and Friday deemed a school day by our district, I think to myself, I hope that wasn’t it. Every goddamn time without fail. On the most hopeful days — the ones with plans attached; days that should be buzzing with anticipation, like the week before summer break or winter break, the day before prom, Valentine’s Day, picture day, half days — I’m hyper-aware of how much more tragic it would be to lose him then, and I do what every parent of a school-aged child in this godforsaken country does: I think to myself, I hope he lives to see it. And then I drive him to the place where, if he’s going to die in a school shooting, that’s where it’ll happen.
Drinking coffee at 6:30 on Tuesday morning, while he took a shower and I wondered if he’d be out in time to eat a breakfast sandwich, I thought once again, I hope he survives these next three days. And then I took my vitamins and he didn’t get out of the shower in time to grab breakfast and we got in the car to drive to the place where if it’s going to happen that’s where it’ll happen and we listened to NPR and talked about his upcoming English final and I said, “Ok have a wonderful damn day! Make sure you get lunch!! It’s almost over! Last full day!!” and then “I love you” to his dark blue jeans without a belt, plain light blue t-shirt with a pocket on the left breast, and faded black Vans as the car door closed and I thought, I hope that wasn’t it and it was simply another Tuesday. All of that before 7:25am.
I asked him on Wednesday if his friends had talked about the shooting in Texas, if he’d heard about any plans to stage a walkout on these last two days, if the teachers had said anything. No. No to all of it.
“It’s not that people don’t care. I don’t know, I think I almost feel… desensitized to it? In a way? And I know that’s bad to say but it’s like, nothing… ”
“Yeah. It’s just always like this.”
I keep not knowing how to have this fucking conversation and I keep sending my child to the place where he could be killed, and my child, my tall baby, has already made whatever peace he can with this reality, because he can’t do anything else, and everybody who can do something won’t.