Updated: Mar 31
In December of 2012, I had a Kindergartener in a public school for the first time and was a mom to a 5, 3-year-old, and 5-month-old. I had just started becoming a social media user. I remember watching the Sandy Hook massacre unfold as babies lost their lives to senseless gun violence, wondering if there was any gun violence that isn’t senseless. My anxiety disorder was not well controlled at that time, I was a mom of three young kids which didn’t help. I remember wondering if my fear of putting my daughter on the bus on 12/15/2012 was irrational. Certainly, it wasn’t likely that I would lose a child due to gun violence, right? It’s one of those freak accidents like lightning strikes, that we can’t worry about…yet they kept coming.
In 2017, the Parkland shooting was unfolding in front of us. I remember getting a phone call from the camp director I was working with at the time asking me to pull the phone numbers of all our campers who were in that high school or schools in the same district so we could make sure they were ok. They were all home safe, but none of them were ok. I watched one of them be interviewed on CNN and felt such pride in how he spoke about this national ongoing tragedy. Later that year, I visited the area to recruit staff. This same teen looked at me and said, “quite honestly Franki after what we’ve been through this year, my friends don’t have time to work as camp counselors. They are getting internships in DC and campaigning for gun control and at the very least banning of high-capacity magazines.” In 2017, 18-year-olds no longer have time to work for camps. And in 2023, there isn’t a national ban on high-capacity magazines or semi-automatic weapons.
In 2021, there was a shooting at Oxford high school about half an hour from my home. I was completing my clinical internship in a large mental health agency nearby and had teens on my caseload that were in that high school. We had staff meetings and training sessions on trauma, and support meetings for us as therapists supporting those teens and their loved ones who had survived. I talked to a patient, a survivor, one hour after students had reunited with their parents. I got off that telehealth session and thought I wasn’t cut out for this, this is not what I had envisioned when I decided to become a clinical social worker in my 40s. This is not what I envisioned when I decided to become a parent either.
Fifteen months later, one of my teens told me that there was an active shooter on the MSU campus, and they were going to go to bed. Just like that. It’s so “normal” now to have a mass shooting that the world can sleep through them. I turned on the local news and saw those buildings that I had spent 4 years in surrounded by police officers in riot gear, not because a college party had gotten out of hand, but because there was an active shooter on foot terrorizing the campus. I felt violated somehow. I know hundreds of young adults on campus and I spent hours combing through Facebook to look for updates that they were ok. Once again, I was relieved to hear that these students were safe but none of them were ok.
My husband and I are both Spartans, though we didn’t know each other during our college years. We often laugh at how we thought we were so stressed when we were college students. We had papers due and exams and drama among friends and unrequited love… At the time it felt like nothing could be harder, or better. Until we became adults and payers of a mortgage and parents of humans. We realized how innocent and simple our stress was then and we often longed for those simpler days. What about the kids on campus today? Will they look back at their college years and think about football games and the girls they had crushes on OR their hours locked down in closets, bathrooms, and the floor in the dark of crappy apartments hoping that the gunman didn’t find them next. The reality is some, no many of them, will look back at these times and remember how it felt to lose a friend and classmate to gun violence.
How did we get here? How do we get out of here? This is not political; this is a human crisis. It’s not political to me because that implies the need for debate. Who can honestly say that what is happening now doesn’t need to change?
When the news of the shooting first got to one of my friends of over four decades whom I went to MSU with, she called me and said “Can you believe this?” My answer was simple, “Yes, there is nothing not believable about this.” We all knew this would happen, we all knew the next mass shooting would come, and we all knew that it would get closer and closer to us. Fifteen months after a high school a half hour away was terrorized, eight months after the small town of Highland Park, Illinois where many metro Detroit natives relocate was sprayed with bullets during a July 4th parade. How do we live like this? This same friend has a junior in high school. They went and toured MSU a few weeks ago. She started talking through what she would do if she got this phone call from her child. Would she get in the car and start driving, would she hunker down by the phone as the authorities begged of her? “Maybe I’ll keep him home and safe,” she says. I rebut, “sure but then don’t send him to the movies, a mall, the grocery store, a high school, a concert, a municipal building, or anywhere out of his room either. We can’t keep them safe anymore.”
There are so many things that make parenting in 2023 feel impossible. I know because I’m living it, I know because I speak on parenting professionally several times a month. I can give suggestions and strategies for common child struggles, and talk about realistic self-care, and resources… but how do I tell parents to accept this fear. I don’t think I can.
To the lawmakers of our state and our country, I share one of my favorite quotes: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” Please stop the insanity.
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