Parenting in the Age of Mass Shootings

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Taking our boys to Sunday school felt different this morning. It started the same as before with boys and girls, parents, and staff settling into the social hall. But the energy, along with turnout was low, side conversations tempered, and a cloud of unease and somberness hung above. The rabbi started a song about the power of each student in the room and the strength of their actions.

After, when my kids shuffled to their classrooms, I left the building, scanning the lobby and outside for danger. I then sat in the car under the overcast sky, squeezed the wheel, shouted, and cried.

My Saturday was busy enough to where I just read the headline and the first two paragraphs of the shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Sometimes that’s how I cope—reading only the headlines and not the full, terrible story of another shooting, another pipe bomb, another mother separated from her child, another African American community purged from a voter roll, another entitled criminal awarded a lifetime judicial appointment.

Then my 10-year-old son asked, “Dad, did you hear about Pittsburgh?” on the way to Sunday school.

“Yes,” I said.

“But that won’t happen here,” he said.

“No,” I said, knowing that I was repeating the dirtiest lie.

We had this same exchange after Orlando, Las Vegas, and Parkland.

As a parent, I demand honesty from my children, but it’s hardly a two-way street. I walk the line between telling them the truth and protecting them. I don’t need to break the news to them about murder by firearm, especially not to my 6-year-old. If and when they find out, I’ll answer questions.

I did offer my older son more this time.

“It was never like this,” I told my older son.

“I think it’s happening in places where there are a lot of people because there’s more people to rob,” he said.

“It’s because there are more guns,” I said, “And they’re more available than they’ve ever been, and today people feel like they have permission to act out their hate.”

An unnerving pause followed that left me wondering if he was on to me. Thankfully he changed the subject.

I’m not ready to tell him this was the most violent attack against Jews in our nation’s history, that mass shootings happen nearly everyday in America, that mass shootings are only one category of gun violence, that Firearms are the second leading cause of death for American children and teens , and that we have more guns than people.

My scream and tears in the emptiness of my car came from my powerlessness, my rage, and my heartbreak.

I am powerless because as a parent of school-aged children, I wander uncharted territory. When I was young, my fear of death was soothed once my father explained that boogeymen were fantasies. I can’t dismiss my boys’ fear of getting shot to death at school or synagogue as magical thinking.

I rage because it doesn’t have to be this way. Most of the country hungers for safer gun laws. We don’t want the AR-15’s, handguns from RoboCop, and high capacity magazines that our laws from our mostly Republican legislators permit because they are showered by the fuck you money of the gun lobby and $51 Billion firearms industry.

My heart breaks because every time I hear a siren in my neighborhood on a week day, my first thought is that there might be an active shooter at my sons’ schools, and because at First Grade Open House, my wife and I had the same worry: His classroom is closest to the school’s front doors. What if?”

Parents of every generation hope their children are more prosperous than they were.

I want mine to be safer.

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