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Their Kids Are Our Kids: When a Massacre Hits Home

The aftermath of the devastating Newtown tragedy forces us to look at our own lives, school safety procedures, and helping our kids understand what happened.

By Lisa Barr

I can't turn off my TV, and long after my husband fell asleep that first night, I researched everything about the Newtown Massacre. I kept walking upstairs, and peeking at my sleeping teenage girls (whom I've been bitching a lot about lately -- oh that 'tude). But my babies, are at home, tucked in, safely sleeping.

As parents, we tune into the tragedy and think, Thank you God, that it wasn't my child. We watch the faces of those parents in horror, awaiting the news that will shatter their lives. We learn about the alleged killer -- with the typical profile it seems these days -- brilliant, a "nerd", different, quiet, not accepted, left out, keeps to himself -- a loner. "Personality Disorder" is the New Age Gone-Postal terminology for these young psycho-killers -- the movie theater "Joker" could easily have been interchanged with 20-year-old Adam Lanza, who took out his personal deep-seated pain on our children, innocents who were gunned down like dominoes.

It's all so inconceivable, and yet, it's happening ... and these days, too often. It feels like once every few weeks a school, a mall, a movie theater -- those places which are supposed to be our safe zones -- have now become the new domestic "terrorist" battleground.

I've always said that the Crazies here are far worse than the Bin Laden Clones that we fear. Without getting too political, guns should not be sold to minors, the mental history of gun purchasers must be thoroughly investigated, and there should be longer wait periods to examine criminal records, at the very least. The whole Internet ammo purchasing is an out-of-control arena. But the reality is no matter how many assault rifle bans we put into place, those who want those weapons, will get them. Those who want drugs, can get them. Those who want to rob a bank, can stage a heist. That's just how it goes -- the bad guys always find a way to get what they want.

A friend from Israel, a fellow journalist, sent me a picture of "Why US-style tragedies don't happen here." (Believe me, Israel has more than its fair share of sicko terrorist tragedies to make up for it). Anyway, the photo depicts a class of very young students walking in a line. All of the kids have had basic what-to-do-in-case-of-a-terrorist-attack training, and the teacher behind them has an Uzi strapped over her shoulder. In other words, if a terrorist enters her classroom and starts spraying her kids with bullets, the teacher who has been well-trained in defense, can at the very least fight back.

The amazing heroics of the educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School -- and in particular, the teacher who used her body as a human shield to protect her kids, was an American example of doing the best she could with nothing at her disposal (apparently, not even a lock on the door) to be able to protect her students. She held her body against the door to keep it shut, and took the bullet.

Having lived in Israel for seven years as a reporter, I did learn a few things that I want to pass on to you. And again, all of this is just my opinion -- I'm not an expert, nor have I had any training in child psychology. But I remember having dinner at a friend's house in Jerusalem, and earlier that day there had been a terrorist attack on a bus -- parents, dozens of children, and the bus-driver were blown up. The couples's three children had joined us in the living room watching the Breaking News, listening to the commentators, viewing distraught parents waiting to find out the fate of their children -- all of it -- was in full color in front of a 5, 7, and 10 year old. I wanted to stand in front of the TV and protect my friends' kids from the images. But that's not the Israeli way. Israel and her children know exactly what's going on, and from a very young age they learn how to manage themselves in an unpredictable situation.

But that's not how it works here. Most kids -- especially in so-called safe suburban enclaves -- are shielded from reality and violence. I believe in the uncertain times we live in -- we need to reassess. YES, soothe your children's fears, but also give them tools to react if you are not there.

Lockdown drills at school are extremely important. Superintendents' press releases and school district intentions of reexamining schools' emergency/crisis policies are indeed reassuring -- but I'm afraid not enough.

I sat my 13 year old down the day after the tragedy, and said, "What are your thoughts about what happened, honey?"

"So scary, Mommy."

Yes," I agreed, and we then discussed details of what transpired at Sandy Hook. I answered her questions simply and with what little knowledge I had. At the end of our discussion, I said, "I know this is hard to hear, but if you ever find yourself in a bad situation, and I'm not there  -- here's what you need to do. And I'm telling you this, not to scare you more -- but to prepare you. If you are in a movie with your friends, at the mall, in school, and some crazy person starts shooting -- never stand in the corner and beg or cry for mercy. People who are crazy have NO sympathy or care for your feelings. You have two choices -- if there is a getaway, an opened door -- particularly someone ushering you to safety through a door or a window -- you take it -- do not turn around. Most importantly, if there is no way out, or no adult there to help you -- Play Dead. You lie flat on the ground, close your eyes, do not cry or move, hold your breath. That will increase your chances of being okay. Do you understand me?"

"Yes, Mommy." Her eyes were unblinking. "Can we not talk about this anymore."

It killed me 1000 times over to be that blunt, but I know my daughter heard me. I know in that one minute of truth -- my voice logged somewhere into her long-term memory. And I felt a little, perhaps a tiny, morsel of control.

Because that's what this massacre is -- Uncontrollable. A mentally-deranged killer or a terrorist (a suicide bomber in particular) have the identical objective: to murder as many as they possibly can -- to make a statement.

This is hard talk with your children. And you may not agree. This is NOT 'American talk' to our kids. This is not the American way I know, or how I was raised. We all want to cushion our kids, keep them away from bad news, and ensure that their lives are happy, carefree, and innocent. Most of all, we want them to sleep at night. On a side note -- a friend of mine with a six year old said she did everything to shield her first-grader from the news, because her daughter is "scared of her shadow." Here's the problem to keep in mind: Many of the girl's six-year-old friends have OLDER siblings who do get wind of the news. And this information always trickles downward, and eventually your "protected" child WILL hear about it. My philosophy: Best that IT comes from me.

The new reality is a world where anything -- I mean anything -- is accessible via the Internet. We, in my opinion, must be proactive with our children.

It's all in the communication. And what I say to a 13 year old differs from what and how I would say it to a kindergartener -- the delivery varies according to age, but the message is the same. If Mommy is not there, here is what YOU can do to protect yourself.

It's not much to go on, I know, but drastic times, call for drastic measures. We need to be aware that one demented person's "success" leads to another, and another.

Let us light candles in those babies' honor. Let us mourn with those parents and families whose lives were just torn apart forever. But most of all, let us ignite the very real conversation with our kids -- don't shy away from the hard issues -- in your own homes, and at your schools.

Knowledge is power. Better to empower your children in a "powerless" situation than to leave them clueless and defenseless. Your voice in their heads may just make that difference.

Lisa Barr is the editor and creator of GIRLilla Warfare: A Mom's Guide to Surviving the Suburban Jungle (www.girlillawarfare.com), and author of the novel, "Fugitive Colors" (Historical Suspense/Available on Amazon)

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Stevie Janowski December 23, 2012 at 07:43 PM
Dont get why guns is all the sudden the problem, blame the killer for his sick actions not the guns. If he wanted to kill, he would get his hands on guns one way or another
Arielle Zionts December 23, 2012 at 11:01 PM
I have an issue with the title of the article "their kids are our kids" because it is incorrect and can be offensive. The kids of Highland park are not the kids that were killed in Newton. By claiming so (even though i know you don't actually think they are the same people) you are taking away their and their families identity and tragedy. No matter how upset anyone here is in Highland Park, they are not as upset as the parents who lost their kids. There is nothing wrong with identifying as a person or writing an article about being in solidarity with those parents but there is something wrong with saying (even if it is not literal) that you/their kids are the parents/their kids. It is similar to the trend of people saying "I am Trayvon Martin"–they were not Trayvon Martin–they were not killed because of the color of their skin–often times they were white people and or/women who do not experience the racial discrimination of young black males.
Brian L. December 24, 2012 at 12:59 AM
Isn't the title more referring to the fact that a tragedy like this makes you think of your own children and how we need to care for all children as if they were our own? Maybe that's only the way I see it intended. I for one don't even pretend that I can empathize with those parents, but I wish there is something I could do for them and for my child. That makes me own this tragedy as well. It makes me think about it as if my child were in that school, managed to get out, and what would my reaction be after that fact. Maybe she meant it the way you interpreted, but I look at it a bit different.
Reg December 24, 2012 at 05:25 PM
@ Stevie - What you don't understand is that guns are not a problem "all of a sudden" - they have been for decades. The NRA itself used to be very much in favor of gun regulations and common sense oversight. Then literally one day in the 1970s a bunch of hard-line no-regulations zealots took over the NRA, fired everyone who even thought about supporting a gun law, and has raked in 10s of millions of dollars from the gun industry ever since. The NRA is now adamantly trying to dismantle and repeal the VERY SAME gun laws that the pre-1970s NRA helped write and helped pass. The NRA used to be about hunting. Now it's just a gun lobbyist group. Other countries that used to have a gun problem enacted some common sense laws and now they don't have anywhere near as much gun violence as the USA. The Constitution gives us the right to interstate commerce, yet we regulate cars and trucks and trains and planes. The Constitution gives us the right to free speech, yet we regulate fraud, copyrights, libel, etc. The Constitution gives us a right to a well-regulated militia and a right to bear arms, yet the NRA of today would rather ignore the "well-regulated" part and have no restrictions at all. It's insanity.
Lou January 03, 2013 at 03:49 PM
Arielle, obviously you are not a parent. When you become one if that is your choice, you will realize that you entered a locked room with no escape, a room filled with worry and joy, surrounded by strong emotions and thoughts that have no rationale description. Above all, you as a parent will protect your child at all costs, just like Momma Bear. Parents have two goals, just like the police have, to serve and to protect. One day, if you reach parenthood, the most difficult time of life, you will understand what Lisa wrote.

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