Monday, December 17, 2012

The Illusion of Control

My thoughts aren't far from the families and staff of Sandy Hook Elementary and community of Newtown, Connecticut. 

How we react to tragedies like these is so informed by our own experiences, backgrounds, baggage, and circumstances.  Because I work at a school, my initial responses to events that involve schools, including my own, are generally informed by my position as vice principal:  responsibility for the safety and well being of staff and students, plans for care for affected students and staff and messaging to parents and the community, anticipation of changes to our own safety procedures and protocols. 

So my own feelings are deferred.  I've learned to not be surprised when my emotions don't surface as others' do.  It wasn't until I was at the kitchen counter talking with my mom about those parents in Connecticut, who had to leave their children lying at the school when they went home Friday night, that I wept.

We're talking at school about normalcy and safety and learning and routines and comfort and support.

We're talking as parents about discussing this with our children and protecting them and letting them go and what if what if whatifwhatifwhatif and there but for fortune go we

We're talking as a nation about guns and mental health and communication and you should and you shouldn't and good and evil and innocence lost and what will we do next

But what we're all talking about is control.  What we can control and what we can't control and what we wish we could.  We will try to wrestle something down to the ground now because we think we failed to do just that on Friday.  In times of uncertainty, helplessness, and insecurity, we assert controls. Gun control, access control, parental control, information control, innocence control, freedoms and restrictions control all at the same time.  We want to be the ones in charge and we want someone to take charge, and honestly, it's all confusing.

We're considering reasonable next steps to increase our children's safety, and trying to avoid overreacting.

A friend of mine asked on Facebook, "Parents, do you ask if there is a gun in the house when your kids go on playdates?"

A great question, because it reminded me of a time when I was nine years old, playing at a friend's house, and that friend told me her dad had a gun.

"Really?" I asked.  "Yep," she answered.

My memory tells me that my buddy reassured me the rifle was unloaded as she retrieved it from under her parents' bed.  I have no memory of her parents' whereabouts, but I remember thinking that my parents told me NEVER EVER to play with guns and though I was a fairly enlightened child, I went ahead and ran around the house in giddy thrill, chased by my friend and her brother and That Gun.  That I was ever near a gun was a secret I kept from my parents, because guess what:  I would not have been allowed to play with that friend at her house ever again. I'll never know what other outcomes were possible from that scenario, only that I walked away unscathed. 

And that I played with a gun despite knowing it was dangerous and I was forbidden to do so. 

That question, "Hey, do you have a gun in your house?" also reminded me of my friend whose husband learned there are ways to deter potential sexual predators from targeting your child.  Because the likelihood that the person who victimizes your child is someone you know, experts suggest front-loading adults who care for your child with a statement explaining that your child is aware of his/her body and has had conversations with parents about healthy boundaries. My friend's husband had frank, sometimes awkward discussions with friends and parents of his children's friends about his daughter's safety in their homes. 

I ask myself if I have the guts to be so bold--do you?

And where else might I be a little lax, too trusting, or holding on too tight?  Are our windows locked every night?  Are my children in the right car seats, every time; do I own the safest car?  Do I have parental controls on the TV and computers?  Am I choosing the correct developmental stage for solo bike rides around the block, walking to school alone? 

Ultimately I rely on gut and decisions that help me sleep a little more assuredly at night.  But my head hits the pillow knowing no amount of bubble wrap, practical precautions, or exertion of my controls amidst the uncertainty protects my children from the potential of random chance or determined and dangerous deviants. 

I sleep with gratitude and sadness tonight, wishing rest and peace for the residents of Newtown, Connecticut. 

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