What I’ll tell my children about Orlando

This morning I dropped my kids off at school for the first time since this weekends terrifying massacre at Pulse nightclub in Orlando. As I was dealing with some mom stuff at the front desk, the fourth grade teacher came in and started asking how on earth she’s supposed to discuss this with her class. What the hell is she supposed to say to our kids about the fact that they live in a country that refuses to protect them? A country that has such broken gun policies that the day after San Bernadino our leaders voted not to restrict gun sales to suspected terrorists who are already on our no-fly list. As a nation, how can we be so resolute, so motivated by money, so straggled by the financial influence of the NRA on our government, that despite horror after horror, in elementary schools and office buildings, movie theatres and college campuses, nothing has changed? How do we explain that to our children? 

I stood with my jaw open, unsure what to say. Because it’s horrible. It’s inexcusable. It’s mind-blowing and emotionally numbing and it’s scary. Scary as hell. And there simply is no acceptable explanation.  

I walked back to my car feeling like I’d had the wind knocked out of me. 

As I drove home, an answer started to form inside me. 

I’ve seen a lot of posts about believing in the power of love. Truthfully, they usually sound like pathetically feel-good platitudes that minimize the realities of this broken and terrifyingly complex situation. Touting “Love and prayers” are lovely but they’re not solutions. 

But when I think of what I would tell a room of fourth graders looking to understand this non-understandable act, my mind does go to love. 

Because while the lack of common sense gun laws are certainly a tremendous part of the problem, it was HATE that pulled the trigger. 

As I pulled into my driveway I opened my phone and started typing a letter to that teacher. 

I’d like to share with you what I wrote, should it help you find meaning in this senseless act of hatred, or help you help your children find the light to create a brighter tomorrow. 

As I drove home the truth is I do have some idea what I would tell my kids if I was a teacher, and what I’ll likely tell my own kids, in an age-appropriate way this evening after they’ve heard about this event at school. 

For her biography book report, my 2nd grader chose to read a book about Malala, the teenage Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban a few years ago for speaking up about girls’ right to go to school and receive an education. She loved the book and we were both changed in many ways by the message and story. There is a way to talk about this with kids. There are important lessons to walk away with. 

Because the truth is, this isn’t about guns, this is about hate. 

Hate caused this- yes- guns are a huge part of the issue but hate pulled the trigger. And as clichéd as it is, the answer is Love. In my kids old school last year they talked a lot about the beautiful Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam– Repairing the World. There will always be hate in the world but it is our job- as moral people, human beings-  to balance the hate- to create the love that holds the world together. Every single person has the power to spread love. To demonstrate understanding, to look outside themselves and offer beauty and hope, kindness and understanding. 
It starts at home- in your family, your classmates, your community. Appreciating people for their uniqueness and beauty even if it’s different than yours. 

It starts by knowing that every voice has power. Every individual – even a child- has the capacity to make change and spread light throughout their world, on a micro scale and the waves travel and grow. Our actions matter. The way we treat people matters. 

Teach our children that their voice, their words, their behaviors have power and consequence well beyond their understanding, so they should use their words wisely. Teach them to use their voice, their actions, to stand up for those who have no voice. Defend those who can’t defend themselves. To lift up those who are down. Each of us must do our part to combat the hatred that creates events like this. People like this, who have so much hate in their heart they can no longer see any light- People are not born that way, darkness makes them into that kind of monster. 

We need to be the light. 

– So, that’s my two cents. I’m glad I was there at that moment to hear that question asked, so it would spark me into thinking of a response. I hope each of you find the right words, for yourself, your children.  I don’t envy teachers that responsibility yesterday, today, – hopefully not also in the many tomorrows to come. But I do believe we can impact our children in a way that will leave an everlasting positive impression in the wake of such horror. ❤️

Love & Muchness, Tova

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