A few days before spring break, my 6-year-old daughter descended the stairs before school, her book bag hanging from her right shoulder, ready to head out the front door. As usual, the top button of her jeans was undone. She’d long had trouble mastering this skill.
“Honey, you really need to learn this,” I said gently, kneeling down to help. “You can’t go around school with your pants undone! When you use the bathroom, you have to do it yourself.”
“Oh, I never use the bathroom at school anymore,” she responded, shrugging.
“I find that hard to believe,” I said as I fixed the offending button and planted a kiss on her still baby-soft cheek.
“I don’t, Mum,” she insisted.
“What do you mean, you don’t?” I asked her, incredulous. “You never use the bathroom? All day long?” I instantly recalled the many car rides where she’d announced she had to pee—this moment!—which mandated immediate emergency stops. Or the times at the park or the tennis courts where the only place to go was discreetly among the shrubs, pedestrian traffic be damned. I mean, a kid’s gotta’ do what a kid’s gotta’ do.
“No, and I never will.” My first-grader folded her arms across her chest to show she meant business.
“Why not?” I asked, both curious and concerned. Had someone bullied her? What was this about?
“Because if the lockdown happens and you’re in the bathroom by yourself, you have to stay there, all alone. And then you have to lock the stall and try to stand up on the toilet, and still crouch down so he can’t see you. But the bad man will find you anyway.”
“The bad man?” I asked, feeling as if someone had kicked me in my chest.
“With the gun. So I don’t use the bathroom anymore. I just hold it in all day.”
Mr. President, are you paying attention? Members of Congress, who are too fearful to make a stand despite the millions of Americans who are demanding basic improvements to existing, lax gun laws—including increased background checks, closed loopholes when purchasing weapons at gun shows and online, and the banning of certain semi-automatic assault weapons that are usually reserved for war theatres—is it acceptable to your spineless selves that my six-year-old child is braver than you are, forced at such an early age to suss out exactly where she’ll be safest within her school’s perimeters should a gunman be on the loose?
And proponents of the NRA, who refuse to consider the smallest regulation to limit access to weapons of mass destruction to even the least sane among us, are you comfortable in a world where lockdown drills in elementary schools instill such intense alarm, our children are afraid to pee? All day? Ever?
Mothers, this is our new normal. Or is it? It will be if we accept it. I’m not saying lockdown drills shouldn’t happen—I’m saying we must rally for stricter gun laws to truly protect our children.
A friend in her fifties reminded me that she still recalls the drills she did at school as a kid—in preparation for the atomic bomb. Yes, when the Big One hit, children in the 1950s and 1960s were instructed to hide beneath their school desks to avoid being detonated by all those nasty gamma rays.
While the thought almost amuses, so sweetly naïve is its premise, I do think there’s a difference between the abstract concept of, oh, say, the total annihilation of the world versus prepping small children to hide from AK-47-weilding wackjobs spraying bullets in their school hallways. Because as my friend readily admits, she wasn’t entirely clued in to what exactly they were preparing for as she and her schoolmates crouched low, hands protecting their heads, until the drill was deemed finished a minute or more later. In hindsight she may look back and shudder. But in the moments the siren wailed she didn’t fully comprehend the Hiroshima-like consequences—and neither, clearly, did the adults who encouraged such maneuvers. If they did, would they really have run such pointless exercises?
In stark contrast, my 6-year-old has a pretty good idea of why these drills are being conducted when she’s told to hide in supply cabinets and to stand up on toilets behind locked stall doors. I never told her (or her older sister) any specifics about Newtown, or about the other 148 school shootings that have occurred since Columbine in 1999. (This jaw-dropping figure counts all school shootings in the U.S., including those that took place at universities and in or near school buses.) My husband and I have been careful not to share with our daughters our increasing anxiety about such events. We don’t want them feeling neurotic about going to school. But some parents, after personal reflection—their right and their choice—have discussed these tragedies with their offspring. And kids talk. So do educators. School personnel dance around the gory facts and figures but they say enough for children to fill in the missing blanks. Make no mistake: My first-grader knows she’s hiding from a “bad man” with a machine gun who is trying to kill her, her classmates, her teachers and her principal, too.
Which is why she won’t pee for seven or eight hours straight.
Congratulations, elected officials. You’ve accomplished the unthinkable: the only Americans making any meaningful change after the violent slaughter of 20 innocent babies and the six adults who tried to save them at their school in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012 are among the very same demographic. You expect our teachers, our first-graders—who are exactly the same age as those senselessly murdered children—and all kids to stand up to a psychopath with a gun. You encourage them to practice safety drills due to the proliferation in this country of such horrifying events. And you do this while you refuse to stand up to the NRA, because you’re too fearful you’ll lose your funding, your seat in Washington, or both—this despite so many of your constituents demanding you do the right thing.
It must be hard, being so very afraid. Maybe you should compare notes with my six-year-old daughter. I can arrange the meeting. Potty breaks, too. We'll just make sure not to do it at her school.
Mums, want to make your voices heard on this topic as much as I do? Join Mums Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.