This time, it’s not even about being an expat. It’s about being a parent, a resident of a small, sleepy town, and a fellow human.
After noticing there was a destination address for sending messages of condolence for residents and victims of the Newtown, Connecticut rampage shooting, I suggested to Koala we draw pictures for some people who are very sad in America. And maybe our pictures will make them feel better.
He was happy to comply, as was Bebe. Maybe teaching compassion and empathy this early is an important part of the cultural solution to today’s twisted society.
With love to Newtown, from Tzur Hadassah, Israel.
You can send your own messages and letters to the following address:
Message of Condolence P.O. Box 3700 Newtown, CT 06470
Sitting just outside the kids’ room, on the cold tiled floor in the hallway, scrolling through articles on my phone. Silently scanning Newtown coverage, reading Newtown stories, seeing Newtown pictures as my son restlessly attempts sleep, deep within his bottom bunk.
“Ima, can you tuck me in?”
I don’t even bother wiping the tears from my face; it’s soaked and the evening chill stings my cheeks as I stand up.
He’s looking at me while I don’t make eye contact, lifting his little body up with one hand and stuffing the blanket underneath his back, the way he likes it. Tight like a hug.
I smooth it out on top of his belly and look at him. Kiss the place where his cheek and his nose meet.
What does this child know?
Does he realize my face is wet from tears as I kiss him good night?
Does he assume that I’ll always be there, even if I’m not?
Is he aware of the hidden demons that take shape around the world while we’re busy playing? Busy living?
Do American first graders practicing school lockdowns know why they’re lining up and locking doors?
Is there a way to fix it all, fix it like my son so passionately pretends to, fix the pain, the mess, the loss, the inevitability?
So I guess I’m not as paranoid as I thought… Or the world has become a more realistic place for people with morbid imaginations like myself…
Set your mind back eight years. Remember the Beslan school hostage crisis? The massacre in September 2004, erupting from a local school hostage crisis that lasted a whole three days, including the capture of over 1,100 people (including 777 children) and ended with over 380 children and adults murdered.
That horrible terrorist tragedy really shook me. Violently. To my core. Something inside me was never replaced after that. Back in 2004, I didn’t have my own children yet. I was single, about to make aliyah, and absolutely horrified as I read every single detail while my eyes stung and my face soaked in tears.
I didn’t have kids yet, but it stuck with me, somewhere deep, dormant. Years later, when I started sending my oldest to a maon, a local kindergarten here in Israel, the Beslan massacre edged back into my consciousness.
One of the safest places in the world for a child, invaded. A schoolhouse raped by violence. Death in a classroom door. If it could happen because of terrorism there, surely it could happen here, in Israel. Even right here, in suburban Tzur Hadassah. In fact, it has happened, in the very beds of sleeping babes.
Surely there are troubled, evil spirits everywhere.
And so it’s been, for the last few years of every morning splitting my soul into two, and then three, as I send my kids into their gans, my mind wanders to an ugly place. Two to three times a week, it creeps into the outskirt of my typically rational lobe, whispering to me, what if. And so, if the gate is ajar, I make sure it’s locked when I leave. If I see a stranger loitering outside, I wait until I can suss out their purpose. And as I drive off, each time, I spend a couple microseconds pushing these thoughts out of my way.
Did the parents at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut ever feel that way?
From reading up since the massacre, I learned the Sandy Hook school seems to be pretty tight with their security. And not in an inner-New York City way. Visitors must be buzzed in (on a typical day). The teachers held occasional drills to be prepared for ‘lockdown’ which apparently happened quite liberally. I found that shocking, actually. Security drills are the new fire drills in today’s America, perhaps.
But mental health care – that’s another challenge.
In fact, it’s incredibly frustrating that ‘gun control’ is trending everywhere while ‘mental health care’ or ‘mental illness’ is still the untouched, ugly, misunderstood American elephant. I do hope President Obama is serious about taking “meaningful action” after this latest in an entire series of deadly shooting attacks in the second half of 2012 alone.
But meaningful action is not just centered around gun control, please. We Americans don’t have an encouraging health care system in place – and beyond that, a welfare management system for the mentally ill – in order to make serious changes regarding how these individuals are functioning (or not) in society. Forget Obamacare. As we all know, health care – and mental health care structure – are broken in the United States.
And Israel – well, it’s just as bad on that side of things. Kupot (the national insurance companies) barely cover therapy sessions, let along drugs related to mental illness, conditions, disorders. Even private insurance here isn’t inclusive.
From the classroom, I’ve heard from teacher-friends that learning disabilities are routinely denied in the classroom, or staff don’t have the education or tools for coping with it. For children with special needs, there are resources here and there, but until what point? And that doesn’t even touch the issue of what happens after the school system… Or way beyond learning disorders – serious mental illness.
This morning, after dropping the kids off, I did my morning walk routine. It includes a chance to peep through the fence that surrounds Tzur Hadassah and see from the outside of the yishuv the building where I send my son every day. Part of my crazy is that I often look to make sure everything is peaceful on the outside. No one strange lurking. That the gate is closed.
I wondered, as I approached today, what I could possibly see there. What kind of wide range of events is possible in such a twisted, ill world.
Who hasn’t been dreading the names of the 20 Newtown children being released. Who can handle their names, their ages. Their pictures. There’s really nothing to say.
As an American, a parent, a human, I hope “meaningful action” means something, on the part of all of us operating in society.
RIP Vicki Soto, a hero with no other choice to make than the right one…
Must-watch: What teachers do: Kaitlin Roig, first grade teacher, shares her account of how she protected her class… “I wanted them to know someone loved them… I wanted that to be the last thing they heard…”
I guess we now know what types of girls Koala won’t be bringing home…
Koala: What is that?
me: What? Koala touches and scratches my nose
me: What are you doing?
Koala: You have something here…
me: Oh, my nose ring?
me: That’s supposed to be there.
me: It’s nice. It’s been there since before you were born. You’re only noticing it now?
Koala: I don’t like it. Take it out.