Guest Blogger: Emily Johnson
I remember the exact moment my son looked at me with his little blue eyes for the first time and I knew in that second, he was my whole world, and I was his. I didn’t know I had that kind of capacity to love, but in love I was and my entire purpose on this earth changed.
Suddenly I found myself responsible for this little life, his safety and health was completely dependent on me. He sneezed and I panicked and called the doctor. He laughed and I laughed. He cried and I cried.
On April 20th, 1999, I was a junior in high school. Columbine happened and within 24-hours my high school required clear backpacks and metal detectors. Law Enforcement officers were walking the halls, checking lockers and counselors were on hand.
Yet, gun violence seemed far away. Like something that happens somewhere, but never here. And while my heart hurt for the ones lost then and in every mass shooting since, I always felt an invisible disconnect. Perhaps it was a way of suppressing my fear that someday it might happen to me.
But Uvalde, Texas changed everything. Now, I was a parent. I was a parent of a child the same age as those no longer playing with their friends, hugging their moms and dads, and laughing without care as all children should be able to do. It was suddenly very real and very raw. The invisible cloak I had wrapped myself in was no longer there.
The next morning on the way to school, my son asked me, “Mom, what do I do WHEN someone tries to shoot me at school?” Take note - he said “when” not “if.” To my seven-year-old it was an inevitable outcome.
I replied, “You have done code red drills. You follow exactly what your teacher tells you to do and then you hide.” I was trying to stay strong, but inside I was screaming, aching for a peace of mind. My childhood had been filled with fire safety and avalanche drills – you see, I grew up in Colorado too.
“Mom, I’m scared I’ll never see you again.” At this point, it became impossible to hide my tears. I could no longer be the steadfast rock that we, as parents, try to be for our children.
I hugged him extra hard and kissed him goodbye and he said, “Mom, don’t worry. I’m good at hiding.” Now he was my steadfast rock. How do you respond to something like that? Suddenly those fears of whether a cough necessitated a midnight call to the doctor or not paled in comparison. I was wholly unprepared for this.
As a parent we do everything we can to protect our children. But as they grow and change, so too does our ability to control the world around them. When our children reach school age, we relinquish control and send them off into the care of teachers, into what should be a trustful and a safe environment where they can blossom and grow. We can faithfully help them begin the next chapter of their lives.
But the fear that I now feel when I drop my son off at school every day is overwhelming. What if today is the day that it happens here? What if the little wave and smile he gives me as he walks through the doors is the last glimpse I have of my baby boy alive? I live a mile from my son’s school. What if the police sirens I hear are headed there? What if the notification on my phone is that notification.
There are a lot of “what ifs” in our world and I, like all parents, cannot protect our children from everything even though we wish we could. But we do the best we can. Will I be able to stop a car accident from happening? No. But can I give him the best chance possible to survive one? Yes – a seatbelt. Can I prevent a school shooting from happening? God, I wish I could. But can I help give him the best chance to survive one? Yes - backpack body armor. After our heartbreaking conversation we had that morning before school, I got online and started researching.
I never imaged researching armor for my child to have in the event of a school shooting, yet there I was hands shaking and tears trickling down my face. I knew I couldn’t send my child to school in full military grade body armor or a bulletproof vest, even if I wanted to wrap him in a bubble of protection. That just wasn’t a possibility.
But on the recommendation of a parent facing a similar dilemma, I came upon Premier Body Armor’s backpack inserts. Low profile and relatively lightweight, backpack armor seemed like a good place for me to start. Even a little protection from armor inserted in his backpack was worth something. It was money well spent on something that I hoped would never be used.
But all this raised another question for me. How much detail should I go into when he asks why he’s suddenly carrying what amounts to an armored shield in his backpack every day? Should I tell him he’s a superhero now? Where is that balance between giving him the information and tools he needs and overburdening him with the anxiety and fear that I should be shouldering, not him? Am I doing enough? Like so much in parenting, I do not know that answer.
Because we are powerless to prevent school shootings entirely, I will always seek, to the best of my abilities, to give my child the best chance in the world in which we live. I will continue to give him the tools he needs to help keep him as safe as possible when I’m not there in person to do so. It is the only thing we as parents can control. And there is something comforting in that.
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