My heart nearly stopped when I heard the words, “Mama, we did a lockdown drill.”
Just the thought of it makes me want to cry – a gaggle of 4-year-olds tucked into a ball under their tables, encouraged to be silent as they hide from a hypothetical bad guy. It makes me sick. And I’m mad, really mad that 4-year-olds have to practice hiding. To be clear, I’m not mad they’re doing lockdown drills in school. I’m mad that we live in an age where mass shootings seem commonplace in the landscape of our culture and that lockdown drills have become part of the school routine. I’m mad that my kids are growing up in an age where they have to do lockdown drills in the first place.
I think of those kids practicing for a lockdown and I can barely stand it. The idea of hiding and staying hidden is foreign to kids that age. I LOVE playing hide-n-seek with my kid for that very reason. I start counting, he goes scurrying away to hide. Before I can even get to 20, I hear him pop out into the hallway, arms stretched wide like a shining star as he exclaims, “Here I am, Mama!!!” Oh my heart. “Yes, THERE YOU ARE, baby. There you are.” Kids are not meant to hide. They’re meant to be seen. They’re meant to be heard. They’re meant to be known. They are not meant to hide and certainly not in fear. And I’m mad that my kids are growing up in a world where from an early age, they are taught to hide.
I recognize that just being mad doesn’t help anything and I remember the sage advice of my wise grandfather who said, “don’t complain about a problem unless you’re willing to be part of the solution.” So, what do I do with all of this anger? What can we as moms do to combat the increasing prevalence of gun violence, violence that in turn mandates lockdown drills in school? How do I let this anger I have give way to solutions? I don’t think banning guns alone is the answer and, even as a therapist, I don’t think simply increasing mental health services is the answer. Do I think these things could help? Sure, maybe. But this epidemic of mass shootings is a complex problem and complex problems necessitate complex solutions. So, I ask myself, what can I do in my small little corner of the world, to be even the tiniest part of the solution?
My mind naturally drifts back to the game of hide-n-seek and it hits me, he wants to be found. And I think, don’t we all? Don’t we all want to be seen and heard and known? I mean, as a mom, how many days have I muttered, I just wish some one would acknowledge what I did today – all the dishes, the mountains of laundry, the wiping up of the spilled milk for the umpteenth time.
People are made for connection, having a natural desire to be known. I’m convinced that many of these shooters, at some point in their lives felt a deep longing to be seen and known, to be acknowledged, to belong to something bigger than themselves. None of us are meant to hide. None of us are meant to live in isolation and anger.
So, in a world where kids are taught how to hide, maybe my part of the solution starts with an intentional effort to do more seeking – to see the people in my path. I mean, to really see them and acknowledge their presence, their ideas, their feelings, and their contributions. It’s all too easy to get sucked into the vortex that is motherhood, becoming so consumed with tasks, logistics, and schedules, that we fail to notice the people right in front of us.
So, what does it look like to really see people? Maybe it means pausing to notice the mom standing alone at school pick-up and daring to strike up a conversation. Or acknowledging the sigh of exhaustion from the cashier at the store. Perhaps it’s over-hearing that the mom in front of me in line forgot to get milk and offering to run back and get it for her so that she doesn’t have to drag her three kids back to get it herself. Or it’s stopping to notice that my son got himself dressed for school and actually picked out an outfit that was both clean and somewhat coordinated – acknowledging him for taking the initiative and doing it all on his own. Maybe it’s noticing when he is over-the-top whiny and, rather than go to my default response of frustration, I instead get down on his level, and say, “It seems like you’re having a rough morning. What can I do to help?” Or it’s overhearing the angry guy on the bus and offering a gentle smile, as if to say, “I get it, this life is hard.”
Just like 4-year-olds playing hide-n-seek, people want to be found. To connect with people, we have to first see them. I desire to be a person who, when entering a room, instead of saying, “here I am,” says, “there YOU are.” We never know when a simple smile, acknowledgment, look in the eye, or word of encouragement will be a game-changer in someone’s day, or perhaps their life. Maybe, just maybe, if we were all more connected to the people around us, people wouldn’t feel like they had to hide. I want to be a person who does more seeking than hiding.
Who’s with me?