Every morning when I drop my son off at school, I wrap him up in a big hug. I kiss him on top of his head and say, “I love you, I’ll see you later.” He’s six and already thinks it’s embarrassing for his mom to kiss him goodbye. All he wants is to get inside to his friends, but I take a second every day to give him that quick hug.
In this day and age, I fear that it might be the last time we see each other. Hugging my son goodbye is my assurance that he knows I love him, in case he never hears it again.
Some people may say I’m being unnecessarily paranoid or ridiculous. But I’m not ridiculous, I’m a realist. We sadly live in a time where coming home from school is a huge question mark. Hugging my son goodbye is actually one of the least paranoid things I can do. I could homeschool him so that he’s never away from me, but that’s not an option for us for a host of reasons. Even if I could teach him at home, I want him to learn how to be out in the world without me. That doesn’t mean I don’t worry every day when I drop him off.
The school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary happened the year before my son was born. I remember sitting on my couch, weeping for the moms who would never get to hold their babies again. For those innocent babies who will never get the chance to grow up. I had nieces and nephews around the age of the kids killed. Now my own little one, who at the time wasn’t even a thought in my mind, is their age. When I’m hugging my son goodbye, I’m thinking of those mommas who don’t get to hug their babies anymore.
In those years since Sandy Hook, things have only gotten worse. School shootings have become a disgusting norm that some parents have to numb themselves to so they can function. Living in the space of constant worry isn’t healthy, but I can understand the people who dwell on the “what if” of existing in this day and age. No parent should have to worry about their kids not making it home from school because of a mass shooter — but we all do, constantly.
Recently, my son had his first “emergency drill” at school. They don’t call it a lockdown drill so as not to scare the young kids. Nonetheless, my son panics easily. His teacher was nice enough to tell me about the drill so I could answer follow-up questions at home. It breaks my heart that I even need to have these conversations, but unfortunately, everyone does. I didn’t go into details, but we did talk about listening to his teacher and trying to remain calm. If he gets scared, I told him to remember how much Momma loves him and to imagine me giving him a big hug.
When I’m hugging my son goodbye in the morning, it’s my last look at him. I can remember what color jacket he’s wearing that day. Which sneakers he’s wearing. As he meanders into the gate and towards the cafeteria, I take one final mental picture. In those moments, the most reassuring thing is that we only live a few blocks away from school. If I need to, I can get there quickly.
But what if he’s not the one who ends up in danger? Sometimes, the thought crosses my mind that I could be the one something happens to. Shooters have no boundaries anymore. I could go to the grocery store and something could happen to me. Without a doubt, my son would be the only thing on my mind in that situation.
At the end of the summer, we were in Times Square when someone mistook a car backfire for gunshots. It was the scariest night of our lives. Obviously nothing happened, but the threat was very real. Being caught in that chaos made me understand how real the threat of gun violence is. The fear is so deeply embedded in all of us. Thankfully, he was with me when it happened. But since school started less than a week later, hugging my son goodbye was certainly a response to the trauma.
This is his first year of full-day school. I certainly had fears while he was in preschool, but nothing like I do now. Now, they do things like emergency drills for practice. With him in elementary school, the fear is so much more palpable sometimes. I try not to think about it, because whenever I do, I cry. But I don’t cry because I’m scared. I cry because I’m angry.
Our children shouldn’t be living this kind of life. They shouldn’t be afraid of going to school because they could die. Parents shouldn’t have to soothe the trauma of lockdown drills. Hugging my son goodbye should just be a simple gesture of love. That hug shouldn’t have the heaviness of “what if” attached to it.
Sadly, I don’t think anything is truly going to change anytime soon. Not while people still place more value on guns than innocent lives. So I will continue hugging my son goodbye every morning.
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