This week was the National School Walk Out. Children all across the country walked out of their schools to remember the 17 victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and to demand action in gun reform.
I am a huge proponent of stricter gun laws. I like the law in Australia where it says that people don’t just need a gun license, they need to prove why they need to own a gun in the first place. I don’t understand why any person who isn’t in the military would need an AR-15. But that’s just me. I’m a Jewish woman from New York who has never touched a gun in her life, except for riflery at sleep-away camp, which scared me to death.
Most people in this country demanding gun reform aren’t going that far. They are just asking to up the legal age to own a gun, to require stricter background checks along with licenses and registration. It seems pretty reasonable to me. But every time I mention this on social media, I hear from lots of people who definitely see things differently.
In NYC, most schools were on board with the walk out and made special arrangements for the kids, whether it be a school wide demonstration, a special assembly or just allowing the kids to participate without repercussion. Many schools even arranged police protection for the kids.
Mazzy and Harlow’s school gave the option to the 5th-8th graders to walk out, but didn’t mention it to the lower school students. I was fine with that because although I am fully onboard and want action, my kids do not know about school shootings or gun violence yet. That’s not to say they aren’t prepared. They have drills at school and always tell me about them when they get home. They know the procedures and the difference between a fire drill, an emergency drill and a lockdown drill.
Last week, after they came home talking about a lockdown drill, I asked Mazzy what a lockdown drill is for. She said, “If someone breaks into the school, like a robber.”
The innocence of that answer broke my heart. I nodded and said nothing more.
I can’t imagine when exactly is the right time to tell your kids about such things. To explain to them that other children might put them in harm’s way. Or that our legislators haven’t done anything in their power yet to stop it.
Other parents I know have spoken to their kids about gun violence and the Parkland shooting, either by choice or because their kids came home asking about it. But my kids haven’t asked yet and it seems too soon to me. There is no way I could tell Mazzy without Harlow finding out and both of them would be terrified to go to school.
Some schools in NYC did school-wide demonstrations. In those cases, I like the idea that the school took a strong stance. After all, part of the conversation is about arming teachers, which I believe puts everyone in the school in way more danger. But I wonder how they explained it to the littler kids in attendance.
I also believe that activism is more meaningful when the kids have to come to their own decision of whether they want to participate or not. I think having to make that decision probably led a lot of the kids to educate themselves a bit and be more engaged during their walk out, whether that walk out involved silence or chants or songs or something else.
On Wednesday, I showed up at Mazzy and Harlow’s school walkout to support the upper school students, even though my kids had no idea I was there. I stood in the freezing cold as the students walked outside, crossed the street and stood in silence for 17 minutes with their signs held high. The whole thing was incredibly moving and brought things home for me. This could happen at our school too.
I’m not sure if the signs the kids were holding even resonated with them as much as they did the parents. Kids think they are immortal. Parents know otherwise.
A few of the parents had taken their lower school kids out of class for the walkout too. I wondered if they would report back to the other kids and I would have to explain later.
After our walkout was over, I walked to work where I saw a few other school demonstrations taking place. Kids walking with signs and chanting, passing another group from a different school coming in the opposite direction. Cars stopped to let them pass and trucks honked their horns in what I interpreted as support. The city felt alive with a faction of people I don’t normally see— high school students.
Washington Square Park is a few blocks away and I wish I had thought to walk by there. Later I saw pictures of students all linking arms in a big circle around the fountain, a place where Mazzy and Harlow have dipped their feet on summer days.
I was also brought to tears by pictures I saw of the Capitol, where 7000 pairs of kid shoes were placed on the lawn, to represent all the kids killed by gunfire since Sandy Hook.
When Mazzy and Harlow came home from school on Wednesday, I asked them, as always, about their day.
Harlow talked about going on a walking tour around her school, where they looked at paintings hanging in the hallway that students from all different grades had made of “changemakers.” Harlow had made a painting too. She painted Rosa Parks and it is hanging outside her classroom.
Mazzy gave me her usual answer— “Nothing.”
“You didn’t do anything special today?”
“No. Oh! I made a unicorn drawing in art class!”
“That’s awesome. Bring it home tomorrow so I can see it.”
They are still so little. Blissfully unaware. I wonder how long it will stay that way.
What age are your kids and do they know about what happened in Parkland? How did you tell them?