Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Twenty Tiny Coffins

Yesterday marked one month since the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. After listening to all the coverage and the comments by the parents of the twenty slain children, I asked my nine year old Natalie if she was worried about security at her school. She didn’t bother to look up from a rerun of Gravity Falls on t.v. as she waved off my question and said, “Don’t worry, mom, I think Mr. Martinez has it handled.” Mr. Martinez is her principal, and yes, I think he does. I’m glad she thinks so, too. But I wanted to find out more about what made her feel safe at school, so I brought the question up again later. She looked at me as if she thought I’d developed early Alzheimer’s and repeated her early comment about her principal, this time talking louder on the off chance I just hadn’t heard her the first time. “Yes, that’s what you said before,” wanting to reassure her that neither my hearing nor memory were defective. “But why?” She rolled her eyes. I get a lot of that at my house these days. Eye rolling and requests for money. I used to kid myself that it was only a phase that would end once they graduated college until I caught myself over the holidays doing basically the same thing to my own father, rolling my eyes at his comment and secretly hoping he'd offer to pay for the very expensive meal we'd all just consumed. But I digress. What made her feel safe? She launched into a scenario of what would happen if a “bad guy” came to her school. “My teacher, since she’s the nicest person in the world, would try to reason with the bad guy,” she said, “She’d convince him to put his weapon down." Then she went on to describe how the science teacher would throw chemicals at him, the music teacher would sing a note so high that his head would explode, and she reminded me that the maintenance man “… has a baseball bat, a signed baseball bat.” She felt the signed part was very important and surely would make a difference. She went on to describe how one of the fifth grade teachers, a woman who used to be in the military, would beat him up, and how another - whose bark often overshadows his skillful teaching – would go on one of his tirades and scare the bad guy off. Then I asked her about the front office, and one staff member with a reputation for gruffness who has to put up with more stuff from the parents than most on campus. “Oh her," Natalie said, "She’s probably packing!” I didn’t even know my kid knew the term “packing,” let alone how to use it. And on second thought, if anyone would be packing, it would probably be this woman and I wouldn’t blame her. I laughed and smiled when I watched my daughter explain with great certainty how her school staff would keep her safe, endowing them with almost superhero qualities. She trusted them, as we trust them, with her life. That’s asking a lot more of them than teaching reading, writing, and enough math to get them through to middle school. That didn’t hit me until the tragedy in Connecticut - until I saw the twenty tiny coffins of the victims. Twenty children, six educators lost. I grew up in Connecticut, in a town fairly similar and not too far from Newtown. My father still works in the schools there. Now what happened there is not far from my mind every morning when I drop my kids off at school. We entrust the teachers with the lives of our children…pro ball players get fifteen million a year, some actors get twenty million a film, teachers get…not that much…certainly not enough to justify asking them to take up arms, real or imagined, to protect our kids. Isn’t asking them to teach enough? Maybe Natalie was right, they're superhuman after all. Visit www.sandyhookpromise.org

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