This week is spirit week at my daughter’s elementary school. For Wednesday, the school advised cheerily: “Wear your favorite colors or tie-dye shirt.”
But Wednesday morning, just hours after 19 children were killed at their elementary school in Uvalde, Tex., my thoughts turned morbid: In the event of a shooting, would her bright outfit make her more of a target?
This is the sick calculation I must now make for my 6-year-old. The one all parents in this country must make. And it’s just one of many I have to consider every day as I attempt to exert some control or power during an epidemic of gun violence.
I’d already decided that I would never buy her light-up shoes, despite her many requests — because, whether fact or fiction, I once read that they could make her or her classmates targets if they had to huddle in a classroom.
Lights off. No sound. Pink lights flashing from a corner.
How about a bulletproof backpack? Should I buy her one of those? She already has such a small frame; it would probably be too heavy, especially when you take into account that she sometimes brings home a laptop because of school closures related to covid-19 — a totally different epidemic.
As the news spread Tuesday afternoon, I anxiously texted my daughter’s father, who was picking her up from school. I didn’t need to see or hear from her. I just needed reassurance that someone had eyes on her and could confirm she was safe.
And what about my commute to work? Usually, I take the Metro. But on Wednesday I thought, maybe I should drive, never mind absorbing the price of tolls, gas and parking. At least I’d be able to respond quickly if something were to happen at my daughter’s school.
At the office, a colleague mentioned — as a group of us huddled tearfully, discussing the Uvalde shooting — that her daughter had pridefully worn sleeves of removable tattoos to school. My colleague’s thought: This was the sort of thing that could be used to identify her daughter’s body.
I wondered if I should even send my daughter to school on Wednesday, fearing copycats. Some lone gunman entering her school, looking for “soft targets.”
Even that consideration is one that many families in Texas no longer get to make.
Does any of this even matter? I don’t know. In the face of an armed intruder, outfitted with high-capacity magazines and a will to kill, any child’s chances are slim.
The chance of any legislative action seems even more grim. After the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., which left 20 children and six adults dead, a bill to expand background checks — a basic, reasonable safety measure, supported by former representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), herself a survivor of gun violence — was defeated in the Senate. If such a bill, supported by such a woman, couldn’t be passed, what will it take?
With inaction by our elected officials, who offer only “thoughts and prayers,” the burden has been placed on our children: practice drills, stay vigilant.
As for their parents — what can we do but fret? What can we do but take whatever small, seemingly trivial precautions we can to keep our children safe?
Rationally, I know that my daughter’s chances of dying by gunfire in school is 1 in 10 million. But that means nothing to me. I’m worried about the statistic of one.
Last night, I let my daughter sleep in my bed, a rare instance that wasn’t lost on her. “I thought you said I couldn’t sleep with you on a school night,” she said. In that moment, I had to make yet another calculation: Do I tell her about the many families who are grieving? Do I explain that I needed to have her close because dozens of parents hundreds of miles away didn’t have that luxury? Should I conclude by once again explaining the importance of listening to her teacher, especially during those “special” drills?
No. Instead, I lied and made up an excuse about how great she’d been lately and deserved a treat. Honestly, I will probably make another exception and excuse tonight. And as I attempt to float off to sleep, I will start my calculations for the next day of spirit week: “Dress in your favorite sports team colors!” I hope the orange in her Chicago Bears shirt isn’t too bright.