“I need a sign
to let me know you’re here
‘Cause my TV set
just keeps it all from being clear.
I want a reason
for the way things have to be.
I need a hand
to help build up some kind of hope
inside of me.”
-Train, Calling All Angels
On Tuesday night at dinner, my eleven-year-old daughter Avery casually told us she hid in the school’s walk-in freezer with her class for about five minutes during a code-red drill that happened during lunch.
The food in my throat got stuck. I wanted to cry, but instead I used what I’d learned from mental health experts. I asked open-ended questions so Avery could take the lead—show me where she needed more information and how she felt about the situation. Her matter-of-fact response indicated there was no reason to create further angst by adding my own emotional reaction to the situation.
The next night at dinner, we talked about school shootings again after we prayed for the precious families in Parkland, Florida whose beloveds never came home from school on Valentine’s Day.
I’d intentionally given myself time to take in the horrific news reports and let my tears flow before our family sat down at the table. Processing what I could beforehand allowed me to keep my emotions in check when talking to my children about what happened.
Again, it was Avery who was most vocal. She reiterated what she would do if she was in the bathroom, separated from her class, when a code-red sounded. Since that was the second time she brought this up, I could tell that was her biggest concern. Our family talked through the most up-to-date Active Shooter Response protocol of 1. Run 2. Hide 3. Fight, as recommended by the Department of Homeland Security. (source)
After dinner, my daughters were doing homework upstairs while my husband and I watched the news reports out of Florida. As more and more details emerged, I could have easily sat there for hours watching, but instead, I turned off the television and went to spend time with each of my children.
I went to my younger daughter’s room first. When I said I’d been watching the news about the shooting, Avery’s dismissive response indicated she didn’t want to talk about it. I took her lead and laid beside her, arms wrapped tightly around her. That’s when she told me, “I helped someone crying today on the playground. I didn’t know her name, but she’s in my grade. I went over and sat with her. She didn’t want to tell me what was wrong, but she wanted me to stay, so that’s what I did.”
“Do you think you helped her?” I asked.
“Yes, because she stopped crying and she smiled. I still don’t know what was wrong, but sometimes just knowing you are not alone makes things better.”
I kissed my child’s forehead and thanked her for her using her heart and her presence to help someone.
I then went to my fourteen-year-old’s room. Natalie had not said much about the shooting. I figured since it did not directly impact her life, it was not on her radar.
I could’ve not been more wrong.
“Lay with me,” my daughter said.
I hadn’t heard that in a while. With arms around her, I waited quietly to see what might come.
What came was more information than even I knew about the shooting.
What came were details she saw in a video taken by a student while hiding during the rampage.
What came was a detailed plan of what she would do in such a situation, and how she would contact me if she didn’t have a phone.
What came was a conversation about what to do when you get “weird vibes” from a classmate.
What came was a plan to report any social media posts made by classmates that make her feel concerned.
What came was talk of the benefits of therapy and counseling. She said, “Everyone needs someone who will just listen to them sometimes.”
All at once, I realized that both my daughters, in their own unique ways, needed to talk through what they were seeing, hearing, and experiencing.
All at once, I realized that both of my children had good instincts about keeping themselves safe that I could affirm and expand through reoccurring talks.
All at once, I realized both my children knew the vital importance – the life-saving potential – of listening.
For parents to listen to children
For kids to listen to each other
I thought about my current anchor, a powerful quote by David W. Augsburger: “Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.”
I’m quite certain that those of us reunited with loved ones on Wednesday night felt the preciousness of that reunion deeply and loved especially well. But there is something that seems even more critical these days than unconditional love – and that is unconditional attention.
It is asking hard questions and then sitting still to hear the response.
It is turning off the television and leaving the phone in another room.
It is lying beside them until the words come.
It is hearing things that are hard to hear.
It is not assuming they are fine on the inside because they don’t have much to say.
It is being available—not just in the wake of tragedy—but every day, so there’s a foundation already in place when trouble arises and support is needed.
Because it was important to get some sleep, I switched the topic to something positive before I left my daughter. “Tell me how your friends liked their mini cherry pies,” I said.
My daughter had spent six hours on the weekend baking a collection of cherry pies and putting them into little brown boxes with ribbon for Valentine’s Day.
“They were all so excited to receive their pies, but especially Grace—she was the most excited,” she said.
My daughter knew it would be Grace. She’d chosen the pie with the braided crust for Grace because out of all her friends, she knew Grace is the kind of person who notices the extra effort, care, and love when it is given.
This is what’s important. This is what we must do for our loved ones—invest time, attention, and care into our daily interactions so that no matter what they face, they will see our eyes, the nodding of our head, the feel of our hand, and in their darkest hour, they will not feel alone.
*Written by Rachel Macy Stafford in honor and with great love for the victims and survivors of the shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14, 2018. If you are reading this through the Hands Free Mama newsletter and would like to share it, simply go to the post on my site by clicking here. You can also access it on The Hands Free Revolution Facebook page. Thank you for helping me spread this message so someone might be able to help a worried child or teen today.
* Please see Rachel’s three books and online course for doable daily actions and powerful guidance for creating connection, acceptance, inner peace, and positivity for loved ones & yourself in a culture of distraction, pressure, negativity, and hopelessness. Only love today.