PARKLAND, FL – FEBRUARY 18: Shari Unger, Melissa Goldsmith and Giulianna Cerbono (L-R) hug each other as they visit a makeshift memorial setup in front of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 18, 2018 in Parkland, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Valentine’s Day used to be a day of heart-shaped boxes of chocolates and badly written but incredibly sweet poetry. But last year, it was forever changed when a teenaged shooter opened fire at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing 17 people and wounding 14 others.
Within days of the shooting, my social media feeds were filled with sadness and anger. Friends from across the political spectrum posted meme after meme of who and what to blame. My phone lit up with texts from moms wanting me to donate funds or write articles in support of various legislation for both pro and anti-gun reform. Marches were planned, protests were created, heels were digging in across the country.
Meanwhile, my children, who were too young to understand what had happened, just wanted to show me their school Valentine loot and to beg me for pieces of chocolate before dinner. They were so unaffected and innocent and something about that sharp contrast to the whirlwind of horror in the news struck me hard.
For weeks, I had trouble sleeping and couldn’t shake the feeling that Parkland needed to mean something more than sad news to me. I don’t have any personal connection to the school, or the kids who go to that school, or the community in which the shooting happened. But as a mother, my heart ached and I worried if something equally as evil and deranged could happen at my own children’s schools.
So, I took action. Yes, I called my representatives and I gave them my voice on which ways to vote on gun measures. But that wasn’t the most effective action I took. Instead, I got personal.
Part of having a strong community is creating strong relationships. Not being super cozy with the idea of being a social mom, this was not an easy action for me to take. But I started to connect with other parents and to build friendships. I want to know who the families of my kids’ friends are. If red flags are going to be spotted then they will come from people who know each other the best.
I got vocal and talked to my kids about how to stay safe in public and at home; why they should follow directions when they practice lockdown drills in their classrooms; and why they should be loving friends in their school community.
But I didn’t stop there, I also got myself informed about gun laws and mental health support systems in my own state. It was one thing to read an inflammatory meme that pounced on assumptions about my personal beliefs, but it was quite an eye-opener to learn about the realities of how laws work and how to make them better. I had no idea how blissfully ignorant I had been about school safety, gun rights, gun control, and where my beliefs on those matters fell.
I don’t ever want another school shooting to happen. No decent human being would want that. Parkland was an opportunity for me to wake up and pay closer attention to how I parent my kids by focusing on community building. It inspired me to see beyond my own yard and compelled me to reach out and learn about the people in my neighborhood and to dig deep to not just learn about the reality of our culture and our legal system but to fully realize where I stand on those issues.
So, while children all over the country may be eating chocolates and trading Valentine’s Day cards, I’ will be sending up a prayer of love and peace to the Parkland victims, their families, and to my community in hopes that the ugliness of that awful day can transform, at least a little bit, into something bigger and more meaningful than a news blip.