"When I was a kid, my mom told me about a shooting at our synagogue that happened before I was born,” I told them. “The rabbi was shot in front of the congregation in a giant sanctuary. I think I was too young to hear that story because it scared me terribly when my mom told me to hide under the seats if there were ever an incident in shul. But you girls live in a different world. A world where hate is everywhere, and we teach you as much as we can to keep you safe, prepare you – and to make you feel safe.”
“We run for it, instead of a lock-down now, unless there is an active shooter near our classroom, then we barricade the door with the bookshelf and a table on its side. And today there were armed police officers at Sunday school,” she said, somewhat too casually.
This conversation between me and two thoughtful, smart, somewhat scared 5th graders today is a moment in time that all too many parents have had with young children all too often in their short lives.
Certainly, for those of us who bravely dropped our children at synagogues around the country this weekend for Sunday school, the shooting on Shabbat in Pittsburgh rocked us to the core. The hate, in this circumstance, was deliberate, orchestrated and targeted at people of faith. People of my faith, which burns and hurts so deeply.
But there also was the church in Charleston, the country music concert in Vegas and the too-many-to-count meaningless rampages driven by anger and hate. And they all have something in common – they rattle us enough to inspire difficult and painful, but necessary, conversations with our children.
But When Is The Right Time?
Like almost everything else in parenting, when and how we talk about terrifying moments in time like school shootings and blatant acts of hate and anti-Semitism are personal decisions.
Today during our girl chat over lunch, both girls proudly stated: “My parents started talking to me about this stuff in 3rd grade.” Mine chiming in: “This would really scare my little brother.”
She’s not wrong since he’s sensitive and 7 and thoughtful to the point that he’d likely ask questions and process very deeply, but what I’ve been pondering since she said that is: How much does this really scare her? Because it terrifies me.
Now I have no doubt this scares her and that I’ve protected her to some extent by sharing few details and focusing on what there is to learn. But given that it’s only been two years since we started peeling the rose-colored lens and sharing the realities of terror in this world, is she used to hearing about it? Is this her normal? Could it possibly be that today’s kids are “used to” terror and violence?
School shootings, hatred, bigotry and terrorism present themselves regularly in the world into which my kiddos were born, and acknowledging that paralyzes my heart. It is paralyzing.
What Can We Do?
Again, what we do about this paralyzing state of affairs is personal. Some brave people will join the Forces to protect our country, some inspired people will join politics to change our country, some will vote, some will teach, and some will remain paralyzed with fear and helplessness.
For me, I’ll focus on nurturing my children to be brave, thoughtful, inspired people. I’ll focus on teaching them what they need to know to be prepared and safe. I’ll focus on instilling just enough fear so that they’re smart and strategic, but instilling love and confidence in themselves and the world so that they feel safe and driven.
I’ll dive even deeper into my gratitude practice, encouraging my family and those around me to find moments of gratitude in each day. It’s difficult, no doubt, but we need to look through the tears and the fears and find gratitude. Find something to fuel our souls to keep working, keep loving and keep living life to its fullest.
Sadly, I recognize that my girl chat over chicken and hummus wasn’t the first, and won’t be the last, where I work though a scary moment in time with my kids and their friends. Today, though, I’ll find gratitude in their willingness to talk to me, in their ability to express their fears and concerns, and my confidence that today’s kids will be stronger, braver and more inspired than generations past because they have to be. We need them to be.
So what can we do? Let’s work endlessly to build up our children, teach them gratitude and inspire them through service and education. The world is a scary place, but it’s no match for an empowered, smart, inspired, grateful generation of kids to come.
Photo note: The blue sign posted here is outside my home -- has been for a year. Home is where it all starts, where impressions are made, where little humans are nurtured.
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