Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Unfathomable Has Happened Again

I was a protective mother in many ways, and even though my daughters are adults, I still worry about them. Though I believed in letting Cara and Mackenzie explore their creativity fully as children, I firmly believed in creating a structured, safe environment in which to do so. Some people thought Ronald and I were overprotective, but I had learned, from my own childhood experience of living in an alcoholic home and suffering emotional and physical neglect as a result of it, that a safe environment is the best environment to nurture children and their creativity and minds.
So it was with great trepidation that I finally let C&M walk the three blocks to their K-8 school alone for the first time when they turned 12. They had argued with me before then, and I had said, “I know you are ready, but can you respect that I am not?”
Then one day I was. Even so, I would arrive at work some days and suffer severe panic attacks, hyperventilating with a racing heart, wondering if they got to school safely and if their day would stay safe.
Every parent hopes and has to believe that when her child steps into school, he or she will be in a safe environment and cared for by people who value him or her. I know those parents in Newtown, CT believed it, but one day their children were not safe.
I am so sad for those parents, the professionals who taught and cared for the children and those who responded to the shooting, the children who experienced such a horrific tragedy, the community who has a long healing road to travel, and the children and adults who lost their lives.
We’d already been talking about gun control for years before this event, even though in this election such discussions were eclipsed by economic woes. We talked about gun control after the Columbine tragedy, the Aurora tragedy, and many, many others.  But there are other instances of violence, the everyday violence that children are exposed to in our underserved communities in America. But these regular, every day shootings never seem to elicit the response that these shootings occurring in white middle class environments seem to elicit. And that makes me sad, too.
I’ve been listening to the coverage, and I hear over and over that Newtown is a bucolic, affluent, close community – one of the safest areas in the country. People are stunned that an event of this horrific magnitude could occur in such an area. But I’m not.
Nor am I shocked that the very guns the killer's mother kept in her house for protection were used to kill her. It happens more than anyone would like to think, and it is often by a family member who turns the gun against the gun owner.
I hate that judgments are made about where violence is and is not an expected and acceptable occurrence. Violence is unacceptable and shocking in any community.
My husband Ronald and I were not bad parents because we chose to educate our children in urban schools. They weren’t bad schools. They were good schools. They had dedicated teachers, administrators, and staff. They had safety measures in place. I expected my children to be as safe as those parents in Newtown.
We have to stop the judgments about who deserves to have guns, who deserves to be safe, and whose rights should be more protected than others. We have to believe every life is important and has the same value as ever other life.
So what do we do?
Reenact the assault weapons ban, immediately. Collect all the assault weapons that are already out there and do not sell anymore. No citizen needs that kind of firepower. Only people who expect to shoot someone one day would have that kind of weapon. We have to agree that our country is not that kind of country.
Tighten gun control requirements in every state through a federal gun control law. What is the use of having good gun control in one state if someone can cross state lines and obtain a gun someplace else? Stop the NRA lobby efforts. Every gun dealer should be a licensed dealer. Before purchasing a gun, an individual should undergo a thorough background check. Everyone who purchases a gun should register every gun they own. Large purchases of arms or ammunitions should be investigated. A safety course should be mandatory before gun ownership is approved.
We need to remove the stigma associated with mental illness. Mental illness assessment should be an important aspect of preventative health care.  Access to treatment is a must for every person, without the threat of being labeled and ostracized. How else can those who need it, receive treatment?
We need to be more open to individuality and the differing perspectives each of us brings to our experiences. If we understand that, people who do not fit into a narrow definition of normality will not feel as if they are fringe citizens, isolated from their communities, and we will stop making assumptions about others and ourselves against an unrealistic standard. We are a diverse country in so many, many ways, and we have to stop defining diversity as that which is different from that that is the same, because sameness in that sense is just a social construct that doesn’t truly represent what and who we are.
Understand that religion and God do not have an impact on violence in our society. A mentally ill person is still mentally ill if he attends church. Maybe people who attend church have a higher moral guidance and maybe they don’t. People who don’t attend church and who may or may not be agnostic or atheist do not, by virtue of not being religious, have a substandard morality. There are bad people and good people everywhere, in churches, in businesses, in social venues and in their homes, and their badness and goodness is not one dimensional and unilateral. Prayer in the schools will not stop someone from violence, as Mike Huckabee contends.
What will have an impact is that we learn to care for everyone in our community as equals, and that we ensure all communities can make sure they are safe. We can’t fool ourselves with magical thinking that something deadly and horrific would not occur in our communities, that we live in good communities vs. bad communities, so we are safe from such occurrences. We will find psychotic people who will do horrific things to themselves or others all over, mentally ill people who are hurting and overwhelmed by our post-modern complexity and who may act out as a result, and there are other bad things like natural disasters and illness that we can only do our best to protect ourselves and our families from. We have to recognize that what we think, feel and do is not always enough to keep us safe.
Now we will go through the healing process again and maybe again after this.  I hope not, but I had hoped as much after Columbine, 911, Virginia Tech, Aurora and other mass tragedies.
Parents are feeling the emptiness of their homes and their hearts today, because they lost a child even though they thought they had done everything they could to keep him or her safe. Those who were fortunate to find their children waiting for them at the fire station must truly be wondering how they will continue on and pick up life where they left it when they dropped their children at school yesterday morning.
 Such painful images make me cry and ache in empathy, and it isn’t fair that those parents have to endure such devastation. All of our children – affluent, poor, black, brown or white, girl or boy – deserve to grow up safe, and we deserve to watch them grow up.  Now is the time to act.

Here are my precious children at age two

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