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Shootings shatter the illusion that we can keep our children safe

For The Baltimore Sun

Each day, I send my children out the door and watch my husband pull off in the car to take them to school. I close the door, grateful for the quiet, and continue the ordinary to-dos of the morning – showering, makeup, a hasty response to an email that just can’t wait.

I don’t usually think much about the weight of that act. Closing the front door and going on about my business, leaving the children for someone else to care for, expecting – without ever thinking twice – that we will see them again at the end of the day.

What a privilege.

What a fallacy.

I remember when 20 first-graders were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. My boys were 2, their sister 10 months. I was a wreck that entire weekend, thinking of those babies in Connecticut and their families, and the teachers who died trying to save them. The tears fell at odd, unexpected times; my brain, I suppose, could not grasp the unfathomability of gap-toothed children with cartoon voices cowering in fear as their classmates bled and died around them.

Since Newtown happened, my own children have grown long-limbed and gap-toothed themselves. Second-graders and a kindergartner now, they bookend the Sandy Hook victims. I am overcome at how much older they have gotten since that world-rocking shooting – and how very, very young they are still.

According to news reports, in the months and years since Newtown, there have been at least 239 shootings in schools across the country. About 438 people have been shot, 138 killed.

Last week, 14 high school students and three adults in Parkland, Fla., became the latest to die senseless deaths at the hands of a gunman with an assault weapon. The promise of 14 young lives, gone, just like that. I confess that I have a hard time looking at their faces in news stories. The pain of it squeezes my insides and chokes my lungs. I know now that my own three will too quickly be the age in which those teens are forever trapped – so nearly grown up; so very, very young still.

At least, I hope they will; I pray they will. I have been thinking so much about what a tremendous blessing and privilege it is to get to raise little human beings. And what a wonderful thing that even after hundreds of children’s funerals, I still am capable of closing the door behind them in the mornings, trusting others to look out for them.

After Sandy Hook, President Barack Obama gave one of his most moving speeches ever to the Newtown community. In it he said:

It comes as a shock at a certain point where you realize no matter how much you love these kids, you can’t do it by yourself, that this job of keeping our children safe and teaching them well is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, the help of a community and the help of a nation.

And in that way we come to realize that we bear responsibility for every child, because we’re counting on everybody else to help look after ours, that we’re all parents, that they are all our children.

How many more children will die by the time my elementary school children are the age that the Marjory Stoneman Douglas children were on their last-ever Valentine’s Day? I don’t know. But I do know that President Obama’s words are true: If we are to stop children from dying, it is something we can only do together. Their lives have to mean more to all of us than any words on paper, more than ideals that do not love or dream or bleed or cry.

The deaths of 14 schoolchildren have me thinking about a lot of things, including how essential it is for a sane and productive life to be able to casually leave your children in the mornings and go on about your business, expecting – without a second thought – that you will see them again when you get home.

It’s why I am so tremendously grateful for all the people who look out for my three children every single day, as if they were their own.

For the sake of all the nation’s children, may we all do a better job of doing the same.

Tanika Davis is a former Baltimore Sun reporter who works as vice president at a communications firm. She and her husband have twin 7-year-old sons, a 6-year-old daughter, a perpetually messy house and rapidly appearing gray hairs. She also needs a nap. She can be reached at tanika@thehatchergroup.com. Her column appears monthly.

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