One of the most vivid memories I have is driving my daughter to school on December 17, 2012. As we pulled up to the school, I noticed a couple of police cars parked outside. I forced a smile as I fought through the tears welling up in my eyes. I watched my kindergartener get out of the car and run into school with her friends, and I remember pausing for a second before I drove away and completely lost it.
The Friday prior had been a big day in our national history. Twenty children were killed in a mass shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut. Those kids were the exact age that my daughter was at that time. As I watched the scene unfold on tv, the pain that I was watching was unbearable. The stories of the parents who arrived to pick up their first grader only to be told they wouldn’t be coming home was just not fathomable.
When the news broke about the horrific shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida just this week, I was away from my family at a conference for school superintendents. And this time it hit me in the same way, yet it felt different. I realized as I walked around in a daze from the news that it hit educators just as hard. There are millions of people who devote their life to the education of kids every day. How could one shooter affect so many so deeply?
It’s not fair. Our kids shouldn’t have to practice lockdown drills and discuss what to do if a shooter is in their building. Our teachers shouldn’t have to prepare to be a human shield to protect the young lives that they are shaping every day (and I don’t know a teacher who wouldn’t). Principals and superintendents shouldn’t have to invest in training and security specifically to prevent or stop an active shooter situation. And as parents, we shouldn’t have to worry when we drop our kids off at school that it could be the last time we see them.
But we do.
As a mom, my first instinct is to make sure everyone else is covered. I made sure my kids understood what happened and that they know what to do in case of an emergency, but also that they understand that tragedies like this aren’t commonplace. I made sure that my fellow educators and coworkers felt able to process the pain. I sent a note to my kids’ teachers telling them how much they are appreciated (something they never hear enough).
After my mind stopped racing and I was satisfied that everyone was taken care of, I realized I missed someone. Myself.
As moms, we always think about ourselves last. But it is important to process this unbelievable tragedy on a personal level. It’s okay to be sad, to be angry, to be terrified. It’s important to feel all the feels. It’s important to take a walk, to get a massage, and to get lost in a good book. Important to scream out loud, punch the pillow, and weep for the lives lost, their families, and for our own fears that this could happen to us, too. But most of all, it’s important to take the time needed to get back to our mom game.
Perhaps tomorrow I’ll pick myself up by my bootstraps, be eternally grateful for every moment that I have with my friends and family, and find a way to pay it forward in the name of the innocent lives lost. But tonight I’ll be sad and accept my sadness. Because moms need time to mourn, too.