It is cold; definitely not an Indian summer morning. Driving into work, with Bruno Mars crooning through my speakers, I pondered how much of my life is spent driving in my car. Is it a bad thing that my favorite time of day is when I drop my kids off at school and I have my SUV all to myself; music blaring? Normally I rush from one minute-to-the-next with deadlines and schedules. My morning drive to work is always s-l-o-w.
Mind you, I awake without an alarm at approximately 5 AM. The still quiet of the morning hours fly by and as I shout to my children like a master sergeant to enter my vehicle, backing out of the garage, all the important details of the day get relayed to them in chronological order. The schedules and assignments due are hurriedly confirmed in the short five minutes it takes me to pull into the junior high and elementary school parking lots.
Yesterday as I watched streams of junior high kids weave amongst cars toward the back gate, I gripped my steering wheel and asked my eldest what he would do if a gunman was at his school. The Sparks, NV middle school shooting was on my mind and before I even knew it, the question was uttered from my lips. He looked at me with the deer-in-the-headlights look.
Why? What happened Mom?
When the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting occurred last December I filtered what I would say to my children; shocked like the rest of the nation. Did I ever think I’d be casually talking about school shootings with the 13, 11 and 8 year olds in my vehicle? Absolutely not. But the shooter, on Monday, was a 12 year old; not a disgruntled adult or older teen. My children are always targets…all of our children are. My girlfriend’s 13 year old worries, frequently, about being safe and Americans’ easy access to guns.
The schools have disaster plans and drills but I wonder if any of it sinks in. And so I asked the question again, my car falling silent and all eyes and ears on me. In the short time it took for me to turn into the drop-off zone I relayed my message. To seek cover and drop to the ground. If you can run to a classroom and lock the door, do it. Don’t draw attention to yourself and don’t try to be the hero. If you are on the playground get as low as you can go.
Like an earthquake drill? asked the youngest; the great shake-out drills from last week still fresh in his mind.
When Sandy Hook occurred my immediate response was that all the video gaming and shooting games make it easy for kids to think this is normal. Our children are exposed to violence, daily, on games like Halo or Call of Duty. The research negates this train of thought, stating kids realize video games are fantasy. Games allow them to escape reality and pretend to be the hero once-in-a-while. A whole chapter is dedicated to this in Rosalind Wiseman’s Masterminds and Wingmen. My older boys, under the watchful eye of my hubs, own both games.
I was saddened to hear of the fallen teacher in Sparks, NV; a former Marine who has served in Iraq. How can he protect his country’s freedoms overseas and not be safe within its borders? All of his training could not have prepared him for his death on home soil, his neighborhood. By approaching the shooter he allowed the other kids on the playground to flee for cover; saving lives.
By then I was sitting in the elementary school parking lot looking at our playground and pointing at places to hide should our school ever be a victim to this atrocity. The kids wanted to know MORE; surprising since I had always thought this topic was taboo with too much information. My girlfriend related a story how her son got detention for using inappropriate language and how it would appear on his permanent record. But what of the bullying? The playground heirarchies that adults dismiss as, “kids will be kids.” Why is it easy to look the other way for inappropriate physical and mental behavior but bring down the hammer for one bad word? Although not confirmed, early reports stated the 12 year old shooter had been bullied in middle school.
This complete conversation took place in fifteen minutes.
As I pulled away from the curb I realized that MOST of my meaningful conversations with my children do not take place at family meetings at the dining table; nor sitting atop quilts in bedrooms. The times my kids are most unguarded and receptive to what I have to say is on the short drive to school. They are fed. They are awake (for the most part). And most importantly, they are away from all electronic devices and that annoying, “What Does the Fox Say” song by Duo Ylvis. Only my car stereo is on and I still have control of it!
Not less than thirty minutes later the elementary school’s phone number came across my car stereo screen. Whilst playing on the playground two friends threw rocks to get my youngest son’s attention. My child happily picked the rocks up and lobbed one right back; which promptly landed in another classmate’s eye. When the call came from our beloved principal’s office I asked if he understood why he got in trouble.
But they threw rocks at me, Mom. came his reply, and I was in the middle of my game!
It was my son’s choice to playfully throw the rock back; the rock he should never have picked up to begin with. The consequence? Apologies to all parties involved, a playground ticket, a visit to the principal’s office and a letter of written apology. My son is still learning what his moral compass is; right and wrong. The choice between giving up playing his game and doing the right thing resulted in consequences. So this morning in my car, I reminded him. Make a better choice today. And don’t throw any stones.
It was a gift to realize WHEN my sons hear me. I have learned that, instead of getting louder; I speak more softly. Or I don’t speak at all. Now, each morning, as I back out of my driveway and appear distracted with driving; my “big ears” are open. When I don’t pepper the kids with endless yes or no questions or how was your day/ what did you do with the expected fine and nothing I find that they fill the silence. They have asked me to turn my stereo down to be heard in the confines of my car. All that driving, from one-place-to-another actually DOES count for something. My steering wheel has become my biggest ally.
It can be yours too. Take the time. Big ears. Just drive. Steer them in the right direction.