Why I'm So Scared To Send My Son To Kindergarten

by Jenny Coon Peterson
Originally Published: 
White board with text "In my classroom Pencils not Pistols" with pictures of pencils and a crossed o...
Robert Alexander/Getty

I cried at my son’s preschool graduation. Oh, big deal, right? Here’s the thing: I didn’t cry at my wedding; I didn’t cry at his birth.

But I cried at his preschool graduation.

Partly because it means he’s a big kid now. Partly because I’ll miss his amazing preschool. And partly because I’m about to join a new club.

You don’t get to opt out of this club, and it doesn’t matter what tax bracket or political affiliation you fall into. Sounds fun, right?

Except it’s really, really not. It’s the “Hey, will my kid be in a school shooting today?” club. And it sucks.

Sending our kids off to kindergarten is stressful enough. Will they make friends? Will they like their teacher? Will they be able to pay attention all day without losing their little minds?

And now, in the last twenty years, there’s the new stress: Will they survive?

Every morning at drop-off, will I be saying good-bye to my five-year-old or fourteen-year-old or seventeen-year-old for the last time?

Francine Wheeler, displays a photograph of her son, Sandy Hook Elementary shooting victim Ben Wheeler. KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty

Even if our kids never have to experience the hell of a school shooting, what are we doing to their emotional well-being with the lockdown drills?

I will be sending my exuberant, sweet-hearted little boy off to kindergarten in a few short months, where he will be taught to hide under his desk and be very, very quiet.

Maybe he’ll be given a sucker to keep him silent. Maybe he’ll learn a song about how to stay alive when the bad man comes with the gun.

Or maybe—and this is where I really lose it—he’ll learn to throw things or scream or charge at a gunman so his classmates can survive.

He is five. He’s obsessed with orca whales and wants to be a park ranger. And he will have to practice what to do if some guy with unfettered access to guns tries to break into his classroom and shoot him.

Look. I know, statistically, it’s incredibly unlikely that my kid will be in a school shooting. But this isn’t just about my kid.

It’s about the risk that all of our kids are expected to face just so a minority of the population can fetishize their guns. Also, I live in Denver, where it was just reported that the metro area suffers through more school shooting per person than the rest of the nation’s large cities.

In April, practically every school in the Denver metro area shut down for a massive manhunt. It was then that I considered homeschooling for a hot second. (But honestly, unless my son wants his only courses of study to be Anne of Green Gables Appreciation and British Monarchy Through Period Dramas, it’s probably not a good idea.)

I would be an awful homeschooler—I can’t stress this enough, awful—but it still feels like it needs to be a real consideration.

So here’s where we stand. I am expected to compromise my son’s safety. I am expected to compromise my sanity. And how exactly are gun owners expected to compromise?

Polling shows that the majority of Americans are supportive of gun restrictions. Yet the men in charge (and yeah, it is mostly Republican male politicians who should shoulder the blame here) do nothing. Or, like my own senator, Sen. Cory Gardner, they actively accept donations from the abhorrent NRA.

Sen. Gardner has taken NRA contributions to the tune of $3.88 million. Since he took office in 2014, there have been 131 deaths associated with school shootings. So I guess I should assume each of those lives are worth less than $29,618.

Perhaps Sen. Gardner could give parents like me a number so we’ll know when the children massacred will be worth more than his NRA money.

It’s macabre, but I think it’d somehow make me feel there was an end in sight if he could just say X more kids killed and I’ll do something.

Or maybe not.

Look, I’m not going to solve the school shooting crisis in a single article (it’d take two, maybe three of those). But it is a stain on our country to accept this. It is appalling that we send children off to learn and/or die. It is a tragedy that we expect teachers to be human shields.

It is repugnant that we allow the men in charge to do nothing. Nothing.

So welcome to the club, I guess. There are no perks and the dues may shatter your life.

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