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Renee Dubeau

Creative Nonfiction & Inspirational Shit

Month

April 2019

What if we Skip the Thoughts and Prayers, and do Something About School Violence?

“I’d jump in front of a bullet if it meant I’d save someone else.”

The words stopped me in my tracks.

“Please, don’t be a hero. You’re my only son.” Was all I could say.

I’d never heard something so brave, or terrifying from my little boy. To be fair, my “little boy” is a man now. He’ll be eighteen in a couple of weeks. Still, he’s my baby, and the words shook me, leaving me in angry tears.

I wondered if my father had said the same thing at the tender age of seventeen when he left high school to enlist in the U.S. Army during the Viet Nam War. The only thing he ever wanted to be was a soldier. He was prepared to do what must be done for his country, no matter the consequences when he was my son’s age.

“I would take a bullet to save the life of another human being.”

Did those words leave my father’s lips as he prepared for war? Could he speak such a thing to his mother? Or, would it have left her in tears, too? Mothers don’t want to think about our young men going off to war or jumping in front of bullets.

When my son said he’d take a bullet, I believed him with my whole heart. The only times he’s ever been in trouble in his young life, he went down protecting or defending someone else. He stands up for the underdogs. He loves his friends fiercely. He will do anything he can to help someone else, even when it hurts him. That’s the kind of compassionate, selfless young man he is.

Yes, my son sounded like a brave soldier that day. But, he wasn’t talking about deploying to a distant warzone. He wasn’t talking about taking a bullet for one of his brothers who fought beside him in combat. No, my son wasn’t going away to war. He was going to his high school in Nashville, Tennessee, prepared to take a bullet to save a classmate in the event of a mass shooting.

“I’d charge down the hallways at some asshole with a gun if I thought I could stop him.”

His words filled me with pride, and dread. These are thoughts my brave, sweet son should not have in his seventeen-year-old psyche. These are things kids just shouldn’t have to think about at all.

When I was a kid, we had fire drills to make sure everyone knew how to get out of the building in case of fire. We had tornado drills to make sure everyone knew how to get to a safe zone to tuck and cover. We had evacuation drills on the bus, to learn how to get out quickly in an emergency. We did not have active shooter drills. Active shooter drills did not exist when I was in school.

Back then, our faculty watched the perimeters of our campus. They made visitors sign in with the office, and made sure the dangers of the world didn’t make it to our halls and classrooms. It was easy then, because the bad guys with the guns were outsiders. They were easy to spot because they were out of place inside the walls of our school building.

Back then, the bad guys with guns weren’t students.

Tomorrow, my son’s school district has closed in response to the most recent school shooting in Florida. They want to gather all of their staff, faculty, resource officers, and leadership to revisit and revamp our school safety protocols and policies. While I appreciate the proactive approach, I absolutely hate that it has to be this way.

Naturally, I went to social media to talk to other parents about the school closures, curious if we were the only district, or if others had done the same thing. Our district stated in an email to parents that there have been eighteen shootings in the past six weeks in American schools. This began a Facebook debate about what exactly qualifies as a “school shooting” since in some of the eighteen instances in which a weapon was fired on a school campus there were no injuries to students.

What in the whole, entire, holy actual fuck are we doing, America?

Have we become so numb to the violence in our culture that we now need to quantify in bloodshed or lives lost what “counts” as a school shooting? Or, can we just for a minute agree that if someone is firing a weapon on school property, that’s not ok? Even if no one was hurt, the potential for danger was present, and real, and for fuck’s sake— why is having a gun in a school ever ok?

And, before we jump on the gun control bus, let me state very clearly my position on that. It’s basically the same as my position on everything: power to the people. The more you try to take guns away from the good guys– the law-abiding citizens who go through the proper channels to purchase guns legally for protection, recreation, or hunting– the less good guys we’ll have with guns. But, the bad guys? They’ll still get their guns on the street, or by force, or however they can, just like they do right now. Unarming the good guys is not the way to take guns away from the bad guys. And personally, I’d like to know there are some good guys out there with weapons, just in case we need them.

Every time there is another school shooting, the gun control debate ignites. And, while I think it’s important to have that conversation, I also think we’re missing the actual root cause of the issue.

It’s fine for responsible adults to own guns. It’s not fine for kids to have access to them without adult supervision. Period. That’s one question I need answered. How do the kids who shoot up their schools get their hands on these weapons in the first place? Do their parents know their children have access to deadly weapons? Do the kids get the weapons from the parents? Where are the parents?

Right after the gun control debate, we go to the other, classic question. Where are the parents? It’s easy to judge, to assume they must be absent, or abusive, or just plain irresponsible and reckless. But, what if they’re not? What if they are just like us? What if our kids aren’t so different from their kids?

This isn’t an us and them issue, as much as we would love to put that space between ourselves and the parents of the kids who have done these terrible things. We have to stop blindly blaming them. We actually, really need them. We need their knowledge, their insight, their shock and regrets. We need to know what they saw, what they experienced living with their children before they become the kids who killed their classmates. Their stories might be the key to predicting and preventing the next horrible act of student violence.

Are these kids abused when they’re little? Are they bullied by other students, or treated unfairly by teachers? Are they mentally ill? Strung out on drugs? Are they desensitized from years violent video games, movies and television shows? Do they just snap under the sheer weight of their lives?

Maybe I’m naïve, but I just cannot accept the idea that any child is born with this kind of malice and hatred in their precious little heart. I have to believe they learn it. Maybe it comes from bad guys who inflict pain directly upon them. Or, maybe they absorb it from the rampant disregard for humanity that seems to dominate our bullshit culture. Maybe there’s something even darker at work here that I can’t fathom. I don’t know how it happens. I just know we have got to figure it out. We’ve got to fix this, and now.

How do these kids become the kids who murder their peers? And, how can we reach them before they become school assassins?

That’s the conversation I hope our school district will have tomorrow. Are there warning signs? Can they tell which students might have violent tendencies? Is there any way to predict an event like this?

How do the kids get the guns in the first place, and how to they get them into the school building?

Do we need TSA style security checkpoints in all entrances of our public high schools?

What will it take to end this madness, and keep our kids safe?

This is the discussion we need to have. All of us. School officials, law enforcement, parents and maybe most importantly, the students. How can we all work together to make sure our schools never end up on the evening news?

My son will graduate in a few short months. He should be focused on his grades and getting ready for college in the fall. He should be thinking about prom, graduation, his birthday celebration and plans for the weekend. Instead, he is planning how to strategically take down an assassin in the halls of the very place he should go every day to feel safe, and concentrate on his future.

Why is my son talking about the halls of his high school like a soldier preparing for war?

 

 

 

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Why Planning a Wedding in your Forties Rocks.

“You must be so stressed with all the wedding planning!”

With our May wedding quickly approaching, I’ve heard this from just about everybody. I don’t think they even believe me when I tell them how stress-free and fun the process has been. Traditionally, weddings can be quite stressful. They’re expensive, there are lots of personalities involved- and it’s impossible to make every single person happy- there are so many decisions to make, and an unspoken expectation that everything must be absolutely perfect. This can be overwhelming for couples at any age. But, there seems to be something kind of magical about tying the knot in our forties.

First of all, we’re real grown-ups now, which means we get the bill for the whole thing. While this might sound like a downside, it is actually wonderful because it means we have complete autonomy. We don’t have to choose the venue where so-and-so got married, or use the caterer who went to hair school with our mother, or settle for silk when we really want fresh flowers in our centerpieces. We get to be in charge, which means we get to make the day whatever we want it to be. We get to choose all the special little details that will make our wedding unique and personal, without any of the stress that comes from having other people run the show via their checkbooks.

Because we’re a little older and wiser, we’re better at setting boundaries. We don’t have a problem telling Aunt Edna that we don’t want to get married in her church, or choosing non-traditional dessert options instead of the expected wedding cake. We don’t have a problem doing some DIY to save cash on the big day, so we can have a fabulous honeymoon, and don’t care what anyone has to say about that. We know who we are and what is important to us, and get to make decisions that make us happy, without trying to please everyone else.

I think younger couples fall into the trap of trying to keep up with the Jones’ with their weddings. Because so many members of their peer group are planning weddings at the same time, younger couples may feel enormous pressure to have that designer dress, the most coveted venues, and the most over the top parties. This pressure only adds to the stress couples feel while trying to plan a wedding that will stand out from the rest.

In our forties, none of those things are as important to us. Our biggest wish for our special day is that it is fun and easy for everyone. We chose a holiday weekend to make it easier for people to travel and not have to use vacation time at work. We chose a beautiful venue that is just a couple miles from our home, and very nearby to lodging, shopping, and food so our guests will have an easy stay. We hired a wedding coordinator to make sure all our vendors show up and do what we need them to do so nobody has to worry about that on the big day. We chose elegance over extravagance, and casual over fussy, because we want everyone to come relax and enjoy with us.

There’s no drama in our friend groups. Planning a wedding in your twenties can be a nightmare, because of everyone else’s immaturity and poor life choices. This is not the case in your forties if you’ve surrounded yourself with awesome people. Our people genuinely love us and want to see us happy and thriving together. There’s no jealousy or infighting, everyone gets along, and everyone is ready and willing to step up and help with whatever we need. Having a circle of supportive people who are genuinely happy for us and want to help make our day special makes such a difference. We are super grateful for our tribe of mature, rational, generous, beautiful people.

Having a bit more life experience keeps things in perspective. When you plan a wedding in your twenties, it’s a huge undertaking. We don’t necessarily understand how everything works, or what we really want versus what other people make us feel pressured to do. For the young couple, the wedding might be their only focus for months as they obsess over every detail, and by the time the big day comes they are totally over it.

In our forties, we have day jobs, kids, schedules and all kinds of balls to keep in the air. While the wedding is definitely a big ball, it’s one of many. Since my fiancé proposed to me, we have built a house, moved, remodeled and sold a house, I changed jobs, sent my son away to college, his daughter started high school and we’ve had all kinds of things to do.

On New Year’s Day, we had a day off with nothing planned. I got in the bed with my laptop and a bottle of champagne, and scheduled a month’s worth of tours and tastings. By the end of January, our wedding was basically done. We had a blast visiting venues, bakeries, and caterers, and didn’t stress over any of it. We knew what we were looking for, we had discussed our budget and knew how much we wanted to spend, and genuinely enjoyed the process of everything coming together. The decisions were super easy, because we worked together to find options that made us both happy.

That’s probably the best thing about wedding planning in our forties: we just want to make each other happy. Younger couples might get stressed out and start fighting about the little things. We tend to focus on the bigger things, and work  to make sure we are both getting what we want. We communicate well, and don’t mind taking our time and exploring all options before making a choice. At the end of the day, we realize that our relationship and commitment to each other is more important than the party we are planning to celebrate it, and would not allow silly things like place cards, musical selections or rented folding chairs to come between us.

Getting married in our forties is super awesome because we both know what we’re doing. We’ve been married before, and endured painful divorces. We’ve both been single parents, and worked tirelessly to give our children nice lives. We both understand the commitment we are making to each other, and neither of us takes that lightly.

Our relationship is strong and supportive, and much like the wedding we’re planning, it’s easy and fun. We know that the party will be exciting and special, but the after party is where the real focus should be- and I’m not talking about our honeymoon. The next fifty trips around the sun together are the main event we are preparing for, and at our age, I think it’s much easier to keep our focus there. We have solid priorities, common goals, and great big dreams for our life together. Our wedding is just the beginning.

 

 

 

Photo credit: Pixabay

 

 

 

 

 

 

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