…on hashing out the “if’s” and “when’s”

imageA couple of months ago I wrote a blog post stating that I was going to take a little break from writing — needing to step back to see exactly what it was that I needed to step up to do.  I had started this blog after taking an impromptu trip to LA to attend a writer’s conference several years ago.  The solo trip was a test of my newfound independence and as I stood with my feet in the ocean I knew with certainty that I had the potential to make a difference with my writing.   I also knew that there would be a push back from those that benefited from my silence.

Silence, itself, isn’t the problem.  The problem is the noise.  One more blog post in the noise of the news and the negativity and the non-stop verbiage gets disposed of as routinely as garbage.  Like the sound of the surf at the beach, noise has become the norm.  Noise that is so loud and constant that it absorbs the sound of gunshots in schools and the sobs of our mothers and the fears of our children.

Last night, just before going to sleep, I texted my 25-year old daughter, a recovery coach for a mental health organization, asking her if she had seen the trending hashtag.  This morning, I woke up to her story on Instagram where she shared posts carrying this hashtag.  One.  After another.  After another.  An unceasing flow of pain and anguish and anger and frustration.

Days after I wrote that last blog post in February, there was a school shooting.  Mere months later, there are two more.  Because, like the tides, they keep coming, one, after another, after another, like a slow motion massacre of this nations children scrolling across our newsfeeds.  But, if it’s not read aloud the written word makes no noise… unless it’s a hashtag.

#ifidieinaschoolshooting  The pound sign of a generation that refuses to be pounded into submission and silenced over the war that they have been drafted into simply by going to school.

If. I.  Die.  In a SCHOOL shooting….  running them all together in lower case letters does not diminish their power so why are we willing to diminish what they are about?

What child should ever have to consider those words?  And who should they look to for answers?  Should we add a fill in the blank form for a last will and testament to the stack of papers that we have to fill out every fall during “back to school’, just in case?  I know this sounds dramatic and that I will be accused of catastrophizing but, folks, this is a catastrophe that has, simply because of the frequency of its repetition, become normal.

Yes.  Normal.  I don’t even have to name the names of the schools and towns because you know.  And while we know the names of the schools, we do not know who will be next, even though we know it is coming.  It is coming because it is now too common.  So if we want to make a difference, we need to make things different.  Not our kind of different that includes arming teachers and metal detectors in schools.  That’s not different, that’s more of our same. I don’t have the answers.  I want to start asking different questions and having different conversations.  And I want to have them with the children.

When will we listen to these children, who in using their words are fighting back with the only weapon we have given them.  This hashtag hammers home the fear of a school zone because it is as dangerous as a war zone.  When will we, as grown ups, be willing to cross the line that will allow us to not have to hammer a cross into a child’s grave?  When the “if” in the hashtag becomes a “when”?

Think about it… the grown ups that complain about the younger generation RAISED THEM.  We  punish with time outs and disconnect because we were spanked.  We taught our children to talk about their feelings because our parents told us to just get over it but we didn’t learn how to listen.  We learned to tough it out but in school-wide empathy curriculums we are asking our children to not only feel their own feelings but that of their classmates.  We do this without giving them a grown up model for what that looks like and what to do with the entirely normal feelings of frustration and anger and hurt and hate.

We force them to apologize for pushing a classmate on the playground but when we are pushed to accept responsibility for a gun in a child’s hand on that same playground we push back.  Against THEM. Without apology.  The “them’s” of gun control.  The “them’s” of the mental health industry.  Law enforcement.  School systems.   We call out the systems that have all of the power because we feel powerless to do anything else.  We ask and beg and plead with them to change the faceless systems not realizing that as members of that system it has to start with us.  Us means you and it means me.  We bottle our own emotions and vent on Facebook just adding to the noise and then when the children that we have told to “use their words” speak we don’t listen to what they say because their message is that WE need to change.

Complain to the one who can fix it and that, my friends, is you.  Because it was me.   I learned, the hard way, that we cannot waste energy on blaming others for not taking responsibility for healing what has been done to us. In my post regarding my father’s suicide nearly 30 years ago, I talked about how I had blamed myself for allowing it to happen and in accepting that responsibility, it dawned on me the power I had to have made something different.  IF I could have saved him, THEN it was possible to save someone from that tragedy.  I was right about this.  Because in my house the “if” of suicide became the “when”.   WHEN my own children were confronted with that perfect storm of suicidal circumstances, if I didn’t do something I would have lost them.

Author and activist Anne LaMott states that the best gift a mother can give her children is her own healing.  Last week marked the 5th year since a crisis in which one of my children looked at me and said “Mom, I can’t keep living like this”.  My response was immediate… I changed the “like this”, not willing to risk the living part, any longer. After navigating a personal family crisis I acted on what I had learned and became a CASA hoping to help some child, somewhere, break the patterns and ensure that the system designed to protect them actually does.  I became involved in bullying advocacy and I work every day to take responsibility to not just make a difference but to make things different.  And I work every day to make sure that I am not raising my children with my regrets but with the resiliency learned obtaining them.

So this is a different discussion… it’s about owning the issues that makes gun ownership a threat to our children and it’s complicated because it triggers our own fears.  The epidemic of school shootings has made the topic of gun ownership a clay pigeon thrown up for everyone to focus on.  Bringing up gun safety is like saying “PULL” at a skeet shoot because all you hear is the BAM! BAM! BAM! as everyone seeks to shoot that issue down.  It’s the same with mental health or with any one issue we can blame because we have learned that while everyone is focusing on poking holes in another’s argument, we don’t actually have to focus on our own.  Ironic, isn’t it?  That while we spend time shooting down other people’s positions our children are still shooting each other?

For those of you I am about to lose because I have touched on the touchy subject of guns, I have a little experiment for you.  Find a child.  Gather your grown children and grandchildren around the dinner table, drive your teen for ice cream, plop the little league team in the dugout or interrupt your tween’s sleepover.  Childless?  Just imagine… a friend, a little sister, the kid down the street selling lemonade… it’ll only take a moment… It’s like the game of outrageous choices called “Would You Rather” except have them answer the hashtag #ifidieinaschoolshooting.  And, as they begin…. stop them and say “oh no, sweetie… it’s not if, it’s when.  Now do it again”.  If you can’t imagine a child saying “when I die in a school shooting” then, please, don’t waste another moment on blame.

imageWe are united, only, by our desire to blame each other.  So, let’s, instead, divide to conquer.

If you think its gun safety, work on that.  If you think its mental health, work on that.  If you think its education or nutrition or poverty… WORK. ON. THAT.  And before you tell a toddler he needs to share, be willing to share responsibility for his safety when he goes to school.   Because “if” it doesn’t start now, “when” will it?

Do what you can.  It starts with one person willing to say #ifidontdosomething, even if the only thing you do today is find a therapist.