BOSTON (AP) — “My No. 1 job is to keep you and your sister safe.”
That’s what I tell my toddler almost daily when I remind him not to jump off the couch, stand on the kitchen counter or dart across the street without me.
I know rationally that I can’t keep my almost 3-year-old son and his 7-month-old sister in a bubble all their lives. No matter how hard I try, I won’t always be able to protect them from harm and pain.
But why should I have to fear simply sending them to school?
Since last week’s shooting in Uvalde, Texas, I have not been able to escape the thought of someone barging into my son’s classroom with a gun and my child thinking I failed him because I wasn’t able to keep him safe. And I am shaken by the devastating reality that someday I will have to explain the horrors of mass shootings to him and his sister.
In all this, I suspect I am not alone. Across the country, different mothers — with different children, in different situations with different challenges and different obstacles — are facing their own versions of the very same thing.
I wasn’t a mother yet in 2012 when a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. I felt immense pain and anger for the parents whose children were stolen from them, but it’s nothing compared to how I feel now that I have my own children — and the fierceness I feel to protect them.
Thankfully, my kids are still so young that my husband and I haven’t had to talk to them about what happened in Uvalde. They haven’t seen the photos and videos of frantic parents searching for their children or the terror on the faces of kids who managed to escape.
As the names of the 19 children and two teachers killed by an 18-year-old gunman at Robb Elementary School have emerged over the last week, we have made sure the TV is off when my son is around and have avoided talking about it in front of him.
At times, I have felt almost jealous of my children’s naiveté. I’ve found myself wishing if only for a second I could live in their innocent world where such nightmares like school shootings don’t even exist.
When I dropped my son off at preschool a few days after the Uvalde shooting, he smiled and waved at me through his classroom’s glass door as I walked away. I waved back and pulled the baseball hat I was wearing down over my eyes to hide my tears.
My son loves going to school. He loves his friends and his teachers. He feels safe there. To him, preschool is a place to read books, sing songs, and run outside with friends. It’s where he can explore, learn, and dream about his future (he plans to be a firefighter).
It shatters me to know that the days of him and his sister feeling totally safe at school are numbered.
Even though the majority of schoolchildren won’t experience a shooting, they will still need to learn about it. They will still need to process it — and what it means to them. They still need to be told how to stay safe, how to avoid getting shot. Just in case.
But I don’t want our children to grow up in a world where they need to learn how to hide under their desk in case someone storms in with a gun. I want our kids to walk into the lunchroom at school and immediately look for their friends, not eye the nearest exit.
Maybe next time, my son will hear about it. He will ask me to explain what took place. He will ask whether that could happen at his school.
How will I be able to explain all of this to a little boy? How can I promise him it won’t?
As a journalist, my job is to find answers to difficult questions. To these, I have none.
Alanna Durkin Richer is a mother, wife and legal affairs reporter with the Associated Press in Boston.