I had my first panic attack in 2018. I had just put Bodhi onto the elementary school bus, after there had been another school shooting in Texas. Or maybe it was New Mexico. Or Louisiana. Or California. Or maybe it was Florida or Kentucky. It's hard to remember now, there were a lot of them that year.
But I do remember how the sun hit her copper hair, I remember her polka dot leggings and matching red dachshund tunic. Her legs weren't long, like they are now. She always went up the steps gingerly, one foot up, then the second foot firmly on the stair before she stepped up for the next one. Not like her brother, who racetumbles up and down stairs, just looking for an accident. I remember the way the air smelled, humid and full of diesel fumes.
I also remember the sudden shaking and clutching of the steering wheel as I watched her. The vomitous pouring out of tears that I was completely unprepared for. I remember wanting so badly to pull her off the bus, but I was frozen. My kids had been in elementary school for several years by then, I had never before felt like she was unsafe. But all the violence, the what ifs, the grieving for other mothers had taken a toll. But I tried my best not to let my sorrow and fear spill out onto my children. And teachers did, too.
I am eternally indebted to her wonderful teacher that year, Mrs. G. Mrs. G looked more like a retired model than an elementary school teacher. And she walked those kiddos though tornado drills and fire drills and active shooter drills like it was nothing. Nothing to worry over or be alarmed about, just another safety drill for the kids to practice. But she also showed me the windows in her classroom. She knew she could shove kids through them while using her own body as a human shield. She loved those kids that much, and they knew it. Bodhi loved her like another mother. Mrs. G taught her to read and helped her learn to enjoy math. She encouraged Bodhi at every turn, especially with her writing. Bodhi wrote her first book that year, ‘How to be Sassy.' And Lord was she ever. Mrs. G loved her spunky nature, her tenacity. She encouraged Bodhi to embrace exactly who she was, I will be forever grateful to have had her in our lives.
Miss Theresa in Arkansas, Miss Chell and Mrs. Gathright in Oklahoma. Miss Charity, Jane (Burgess) Moore, Mary Smith, Barbara Yarbrough and Bill Coombes in Texas. All of them life-changers. I am sorry you are not safe in your places of work. I am sorry our children aren’t safe there, either. Because you all deserve to be. I will never ask you to become weapons in this political battle. I will never ask you to arm yourselves or sacrifice yourselves for our babies. Though so many of you will do it anyway. Because that’s what teachers do. Love children, sacrifice for them. Help them live.
Teachers and children, you are all in my thoughts and prayers. You are also in my actions. I will be pushing for common sense gun laws, and I will be demanding that school boards and politicians make our schools safer. If we can make airports safe, we can make schools safe. If we can pay district superintendents and administrators in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, we can afford security. If we, the taxpayers, can fund a billion-dollar state testing and data collection industry, we can hire multiple school mental health professionals and crisis interventionists on our campuses. If we can afford football and band and cheer and debate and robotics and charter buses, we can afford to feed children breakfast and lunch.
At our insistence, schools can remain places of nurture and learning. We are the taxpayers, we can demand change. And we are the parents, protecting our children must be our first priority. Because what piteously little is we are doing is not enough, and our children and teachers are paying the ultimate price. It must stop. Ask for a copy of your school’s budget. Meet with your school board and insist on changes. Show up at meetings and be heard. Contact your elected officials and let them know where you stand. Join a political action group, donate to victims and organizations that support your stance. Vote. It’s the only way things are ever going to change.