Dear Mr. VP,
Today, I dropped my kid off at kindergarten for the first time.
I’m excited for him, and for the world that’s about to open to him. What he’ll get to learn. The people he’ll get to meet. The new and caring adults who will enter into his life and help to shape him into an empathetic and thoughtful young person.
I’m also worried about whether he’ll be sad, whether he’ll make friends right away, whether he’ll find the academic work too easy, or too hard. If he’ll be lonely. If I packed him enough lunch. If he’ll get lost on the way to the bathroom and get scared.
What I wouldn’t give for those to be my only worries.
As I watched him walk through the doors of the school, I reflected on a day, some five and a half years earlier, when I was still pregnant. December 14, 2012. It’s the day a man entered Sandy Hook Elementary and massacred a classroom of first graders.
So as I sent my small person off to his classroom, where he’ll learn and grow and become even more himself, I also recognized I was sending him to a place where I cannot keep him safe. And, I sent him knowing full well that politicians and pundits and advocacy groups all across the country — from you to Betsy DeVos to the NRA — are actively working against common sense measures to protect him and his classmates, and working for policies (like arming teachers) that could turn his classroom into a war zone.
Watching him walk in the door of the school building, I thought about the twenty small children who didn’t come home on December 14th. As a teacher took his hand to lead him to his class, I thought about the heroic teachers and administrators at Sandy Hook, some of whom died while trying to keep their students safe. I thought about Sandy Hook families, who have had insult added to injury in the aftermath, harassed by Alex Jones and his alt-right followers. And I also thought about my immense privilege: the privilege that let me believe, until December 14, 2012, that small children are safe from this sort of violence. If I’d grown up with a different skin color, or in a different place, or in a different family environment, I may not have been so naive.
Given how many of this year’s kindergarteners were newly born, or newly conceived, during the events of Sandy Hook, I can’t imagine I’m the only parent to be contemplating that day as I watched the school door close behind my child. It’s hard to remember, but imperative that we not forget. We owe it to our children, and to the children of our friends, family, and neighbors, to work against violence that impacts their lives, and in *all* its forms. School violence, yes. But also police and white supremacist violence against communities of color, domestic violence, misogynistic violence, state violence…all of the interconnected systems of violence and oppression that traumatize children here and across the world.
What can I do? Donate to Moms Demand Action, or the Southern Poverty Law Center, or RAICES Texas, or my local domestic violence shelter. Demand accountability for the police in my community. Vote against politicians who actively wage economic war against poor children, stripping them of their access to affordable healthy food and health care. And against politicians actively waging war against children of color and immigrant children, ripping them from their parents at the border, and cheering as their communities are terrorized by ICE. If white supremacists show up in my town, I can show up and shut them down. Support common sense gun laws. Stand up against Supreme Court nominees who will impact gun laws and reproductive healthcare for generations — I made a commitment to call my representatives today to speak out against Brett Kavanaugh.
I’ll do it for my kid, who walked through the door of their new elementary school today. But it’s not just about him. It’s for his friends. It’s for all the five-year-olds who deserve to grow up happy, healthy, and fulfilled, supported by their communities and given the tools they need to access equal opportunity. All of them need us, as adults, to keep them safe.
I can’t think of a more important responsibility. I hope, someday, a generation of parents will drop their kids off at school worried only about whether the lunch they packed will be acceptable.