Resilience

by Jill Bender on January 30, 2014

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Three days ago, on Monday morning at 7:56 am, my cell phone rang and my caller id said that it was my 17 year old. The hairs on the back of my neck rose because he should be in school and not on the phone calling me. I knew it wasn’t going to be good news.

“Mom, some kids lit themselves on fire in the cafeteria so they’re sending us all home.” I started to sweat, felt sick to my stomach and my heart sunk. We hung up and 10 minutes later I texted him “Please just tell me it was just a cafeteria fire.” It wasn’t.

They were evacuated safely.

As the facts emerged, it was one kid. A 16 year old intent on committing suicide – not harming others. Devastating is the only word that works here.

On June 20, 2012 the mass shooting at the Aurora movie theater took place 22 miles from my home.

On October 5, 2012 Jessica Ridgeway went missing just a mile from the high school. The community searched for her for five days. We rallied. We stood outside in the freezing, pouring rain to release purple and green balloons. Every store within miles was out of balloons. She was found murdered by a former SLHS student who still lived in the area.

In October 2012 we got a message that police thwarted an attack. A 20 year old was planning to kill school children at the high school during the Halloween trick or treat street event on October 30. He had maps of the school so he could pinpoint a ‘kill zone’. My little one and I were at the school that night  because Jessica Ridgeway was still missing and we were scared to be out trick or treating. I wrote this post about wading into unchartered waters with my kids where our paths enmesh with police and media presence.

On February 20, 2013 the school was on lockout due to guns being found on/near the athletic fields. It was a robbery in the neighborhood and no real threat was posed because the resource officer on campus found the guns. Miraculous.

On December 13, 2013 there was an attack at Arapahoe High School (28 miles away) where Claire Davis was shot point blank and later died. The gunman, a student, killed himself.

On January 23, 2014 Columbine High School was placed on lockout while police investigated three threats.

Columbine in 1999, Platte Canyon in 2006, Virginia Tech in 2007, Newtown in 2012 Purdue, Hawaii and hundreds more and did you know that in January 2014 there were 11 school shootings as of January 28th?

It’s too much.

Do you know what it’s like to get a text from your child – no matter the reason – that they are under some type of protection?

Safe. But under protection.

I do. And I’m afraid I’m going to suffer from PTSD because a phone call from the school # now makes my heart stop before even hearing the content of the message.

But here’s the thing… as much as I am affected, my kids, your kids, our kids, are living it. And they are amazingly resilient. I am just about in a puddle on the floor and my kid walks back into that school every day.

Unafraid. And proud to be there.

After the incident on Monday, the school was also shut down on Tuesday and counselors were available for anyone that needed it. The students rallied together in #GatorStrong on social media.

The kids were allowed back in yesterday and the staff and alumni handed out t-shirts that said GATOR STRONG to everyone. And they gathered in their gym and took a photo – everyone in white.

I cried when I saw the photo because wow. The hundreds of faces of resilience.

Day Without Hate started at my son’s school in 2007 by students and staff, in response to the Columbine and Virginia Tech shootings because while resilient, they are tired of being scared to go to a place that should be left in tact and safe. School.

Our kids want to just LIVE THEIR LIFE. In literal peace.

I want that for them. I want them to have peace. And not just because *I need* for them to have it.

On Monday night I had a full blown panic attack. The event of the day was just too much and my body gave in to the adrenaline. I was devastated that the student was so desperate in life that he thought it was better to die. That death by drinking bleach and dousing himself in gasoline and lighting himself on fire in the school cafeteria was better than another day alive. Absolutely devastated for him. For his family. For the students and staff at the school who were witness to the incident. (He didn’t die. He sustained burns on 80% of his body and he’s still in critical condition.)

What is happening?

Violence goes back as far as humanity and while I’m no historian, I think it was originally used as a  “survival of the fittest” thing. That is no longer the case. We can all survive – that’s what we’re all just trying to do is survive – together.

We can live together side by side. In peace.

Violence now is purely used in anger. How have we gotten here? Or maybe the bigger question is why.

The one answer that keeps running, like a ticker at the bottom of the screen, through my head is that we HAVE to insert ourselves into our kids’ lives. We have to be present. We have to sit smack dab in the middle. We have to be the center of their world whether they like it or not. We need to know who they’re with. What they’re doing. What they’re thinking. How they feel.

We have to.

And we have to talk to them about all of it. ESPECIALLY when it is the most uncomfortable.

Because their resilience comes from lessons learned in life we have to be resilient. Allow ourselves to crumble under the pressure, stand up, shake it off and TALK to them about it. We are human beings. Not robots.  They need to see that ‘vulnerable’ is okay, and they need to know how to be resilient. Single parenting has afforded me this ability.

For as much as our community has been through, it has rallied around the kids and given them strength. For a community that people point to and say “what is going on there?” it is standing strong.

While I hate the reasons for it, I am ever grateful for the “village” helping to raise resilient kids because I am still in the process of processing…

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Angela January 30, 2014 at

Beautifully written. I remember all those events, but wow, looking at them just one by one on a page just hits home again.

I am right there with you. I respect your parenting so much and it makes me feel good knowing the thoughts I have on raising my boys are thought by others as well. When did parents feel it was OK to stop being an active parent and only a friend? I see it all too much and I hear it all too much, “Well if my child wants to try drinking, I would rather them do it at home where they are safe.” NO, you tell them they are to young and there will be consequences for their actions should they choose that, or other similar paths while they are still children. (obviously this is a very broad example as I feel certain occasions and small amount with an older teenage is somewhat and sometimes acceptable). Children are growing up way too fast. They have plenty of time to experiment with whatever, when they are older. This is the time to interact with them, have fun, show them there is much more to life then the drinking, bullying and all the other horrible things going on day to day. This is our times as parents to instill good values and goals to be an outstanding adult. Our children look up to us and like Jill pointed out, we HAVE to talk to them about everything and be involved with everything. This child should not have felt so alone they could not go to their parents or even a friends. And as a parent, WE SHOULD KNOW when our child is feeling so alone and hopeless. That IS our job as parents. We ARE responsible for their actions until they are adults. Lets teach them that making the right decisions are what they too want.

Love it! Thank you!!!!

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