If you’re struggling to explain school shootings to your kids, you’re not alone

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There is plenty to worry about with a kindergartener.

They are tiny balls of cosmic energy focused entirely on whatever whim enters their head at any given moment and prone to forgetting anything they learned at school that week in favor of committing a particularly quirky and fun limerick to memory and shouting it, loudly, inside the house and to passerby at the park.

They are perfect and flawed, just like all of us, only more so and without the inhibitions and anxieties brought on by knowing exactly what the world is and what is lurking in it.

It seems great, to be honest.

Brett Levin / Flickr

Keeping the horrors of the world from your kids used to be easier.

(Or maybe the horrors didn’t used to be so horrible).

The most frightening thing I can recall about going to school is being told a tornado could touch down and suck me out through the door and they’d find my mangled body four miles away in a cow pasture.

That two different tornados touched down at my school during the school day when I was a kid (true story) made this a more sobering reality than it likely should have been.

And yet, that seems like a very easy discussion when compared to the one parents now are wrestling with — the likelihood of a person bringing automatic weapons into school and killing everyone they see.

A long time ago, before I was a parent, I thought I had a handle on how to approach this once I became a parent.

I thought I could explain that most people aren’t evil, that adults will keep you safe, that there was nothing to fear because these incidents were so random and isolated that of course they would never happen to my kids, they would always happen to someone else.

Unfortunately, to someone else, we’re all someone else.

I don’t know how to do this.

Broadly, that might mean parenting…

… but narrowly, I mean talking to my kids about things that should make them absolutely terrified without actually paralyzing them to the point where they can’t learn, or worse, making them fear for their lives every single time they enter the school.

There are a few ways I could mitigate this—home schooling being the most practical, and far less dangerous for a child’s social development than many fear—but I take the view that if all my kid’s know is what I teach them, all they’ll know is all I know.

And since I’m not that smart, they probably need to go to school with other people, and it would help if they could be relatively assured they aren’t going to die there.

Right now, I can’t give them that assurance.

Two months ago, a local school in my city was the site of one of our most recent mass shooting incidents in this country.

State government responded by… expelling two representatives who “aggressively” advocated for any gun laws on the House floor—not sensible, not stringent, literally anything beyond ‘yes you can have a gun as soon as you turn 18 in this state’ — and ended their legislative session early so that hopefully the clamor for reform will die down when they resume.

Cynically, I’m sure they’re right.

By the time they’re back in session, another shooting will have happened somewhere else, and we can offer thoughts and prayers without a shred of irony or an idea of what to do to prevent the next one.

To be so disillusioned is a hard thing to keep inside as a parent, and will become harder to keep from children as well.

To promise to keep your kids safe no matter what—and then to drop them off each morning knowing that for the next few hours I can’t hold up my end of the bargain—is a hell of a humbling experience.

To be so disillusioned that I know nothing I do—not writing this, not marching, not protesting, not writing my local officials, not even running for office myself—will do anything to fix this fundamental rot in our society based on a combination of mental health, gun access, and political gamesmanship is hard to put into words, and so profoundly disappointing.

I have to get up every day and participate in society knowing society doesn’t care if I or anyone I love is still alive when the sun sets.

This sucks. But you knew that.

What I want to impart is that we’re not alone.

You don’t have to exist along the same political divide to know that every parent has these fears, that they can’t answer these questions and they’re doing the best they can to shield their kids from everything while preparing them for what almost feels inevitable at this point.

We all share the same burdens, the same helplessness that comes with hugging your kid good-bye in the morning and praying to whatever you pray to that they’ll come back safe that night.

And we can help each other.

We can be the rocks that one another lean on when it comes to fear.

Keeping it inside? That’s only going to lead to anger and resentment. It doesn’t do anyone any good, starting with your kids.

You can wrestle with those fears on your own, but there is some minor comfort that comes with knowing you aren’t alone with the demons of confusion, anger and fear.

There is light ahead, somewhere; hope can’t be stymied as long as we keep it alive, and banding together is our best chance to keep hope, keep faith, and keep fighting for the better world we want our kids to inherit.  

Colby Wilson lives outside of Nashville with his wife, two adopted children and two destructive dogs. His work has appeared in Baseball Prospectus, the Nashville Post and LetsGoPeay.com, among other places. He remains on Twitter for reasons unknown; contact him @CWilson225 if you’d like him to do words for you.