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"I was the only one that breathed too loud."

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"I was the only one that breathed too loud."

Before I went to Washington DC last weekend I wondered if my kids (8 and 5) were too young.  I wondered if perhaps I was exposing them too early to fears of being shot.  The Women's March, March for Science, and rallies for immigrants were more abstract for them.  It took some discussion to explain that women are still fighting for equality, that some people don't trust the scientific method and what it meant to not have documents in a country you live in.  It wasn't really personal.  We live with a lot of privilege in a safe neighborhood of a city where we don't think twice about walking around in the evening.  We don't hear gunshots. We are very lucky.  

But the 5th, 6th , 7th and 8th graders at her school walked out on on March 14th, and I knew my 2nd grader was aware of it.  We have talked about why I don't like shooting games, and what to do if you ever see a gun, even if you think it is not real.  But my 8-year-old seemed to pay about as much attention to these conversations as to the ones in which I tell her to clear her plate or wash her hands.  Not much.

Before the March she wrote a sign that read: "No Guns! Children's Safety!" and because she is prolifically creative, she then made several more: "No guns, no way! All children have a say!", "Guns are scary. I know! How abut baning them? [sic]"  

My 5 year old sat down with markers and when she stood up she had a sign that read "No guns! Safety! Children! Not me next!!!!!!!!" There were 8 exclamation marks.  There was also a stick figure frowning and saying "But but" in front of a giant orange gun with green bullets.  

When we stepped off the Metro at L'Enfant Plaza and walked towards the noise, I was floored by how many young people of all ages showed up.  I smiled and I cried at all the beautiful art made by these kids, speaking their truth to power.  I felt a hope I haven't felt in a long time listening to the fuzzy mumble that was clearly the voice of youth over a sound system that didn't quite reach as far as we were, way out in the sea of hundreds of thousands of people.  Hundreds of thousands of people who are all working to stop this absurd threat to our children and to all of us.

The 8 year-old liked it when people stopped to snap a photo of her and her sign.  She complained that we had forgotten the megaphone and noone was answering her calls to chant (that's her favorite part of marches).  After an hour the kids teamed up and began lobbying to head over to the Air and Space Museum and eventually we did.

Fast forward to today when I picked the 8-year-old up after school.   She told me she had gotten a time-out for chewing up her coat sleeve until it ripped, and had been told to sit out at volleyball during gym class because she was sucking her thumb.  After reminding her that, yes, it was true that she needed to stop putting things in her mouth, I asked what was going on.  Was there anything she was worried about?  All she could think of was a Spelling Bee.  A Spelling Bee she and her friends had invented and were playing as a game.  That didn't seem like the culprit.

Not an hour later I got a recorded call from the principal.  They had performed a Lock-Down drill today and he wanted to be sure parents knew in case it was upsetting for any of the kids. Bingo.  That was it.  That was why she was so stressed out.  I brought it up at dinner.

"Well, I was a little scared, but it was fine." she said.  I told my daughter that it was not her job to protect herself and her class in case of danger.  I told her it was the grown-ups' job to protect the kids and I didn't like that she was doing drills that put the onus on kids to behave in the right way in order to be safe. She disagreed.

"But we have to do it so they don't know we are there. My teacher is all about safety." She got a worried look in her eyes.

"But I didn't do it right. I was the only one that breathed too loud." 

"I was the only one that breathed too loud."

What do you say to that?  I think I told her that was ridiculous.  I think I told her it wasn't her job to save her class.  I don't know what I said.  I wanted to scream.  I wanted to cry.

I didn't know what to do.  I hugged her. I told her we could talk about it anytime. She started talking about the menu she was designing, already onto other creative endeavors. She's 8.

You know what?  If I had any doubt about the kids being too young for that march, I don't anymore.  Not one shred.  Thank God that when my kids have to hide, when they have to pretend not to even breathe, they can remember that crowd of hundreds of thousands of people. Hundreds of thousands of people breathing, speaking, singing, yelling, marching, voting and working hard to make a change. To make us safe. 

You know what else was on my daughter's sign? On the bottom left corner she wrote:

"Kids (noun) def: People who make the world a better place."

I think she's right.

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Emily Goldberg1 Comment