Before we moved to France, we lived in a town called Arlington, just a few miles from downtown Boston. It’s a sweet, middle-class community populated by a mix of life-long residents, many now living in the homes where they grew up, and young families drawn by good schools, quality housing and proximity to urban life. There are lots of parks, a wooded bike path, decent restaurants and kids everywhere. In many ways, it’s an idyllic place to raise a family.
When we lived there, my son started kindergarten at our local elementary school. It was, again, almost idyllic. The school was just a few blocks from our home. Groups of kids walked together through the leaf-strewn streets that fanned out around the school, crossing guards manned nearby intersections and parents were welcome to get involved. It felt safe.
Walking to school in our old neighborhood.
And yet, in the days since the atrocities in Connecticut, I’ve been haunted by thoughts of Arlington. Just a few hundred miles from Sandy Hook, I imagine my friends gathered in clusters on Arlington’s playgrounds, sending their kids to school and volunteering in classrooms. I know they are scared. In the wake of news like this, what parent isn’t?
I cannot help but wonder, somewhat guiltily: Are my kids actually safer in France?
Like so many mothers, I believe that my very first job as a parent is to keep my kids safe. Even on days when I’m least proud of my parenting — when I’ve been tired, less attentive or less patient than I’d like to be — I always console myself with one basic fact as I tuck my children in each night: They are safe. No matter what else I did that day, they are alive and well. And that is something.
And yet I know rationally that threats are everywhere, that the relative safety I feel here in Paris has little to do with geography and is, simply, a state of mind. Harm could come to them just as easily here as anywhere. We are, after all, in the heart of a big city, buzzing with dangers and joys in equal measure. Threats abound everyday — in the streets we must cross, in the strangers we must trust, in the lives we must lead as fully functioning human beings.
I do, however, know this: They will not be killed by gunfire in their school.
So are they safer in France? Probably not. But are they safer from guns? No doubt about it.
The loss of young life in Connecticut is beyond rational comprehension. Unlike loved ones in the U.S., I have the luxury of shielding myself and my children from much of this crushing news. I simply cannot bear it and the reasons are obvious. It brings to the fore all that we fear most: That out of the blue, through no fault of our own, something evil and horrendous will take from us that which we treasure above all else. That this should happen to ones so young is the realization of our darkest imaginings. That they should be harmed in their havens of learning, growth, social connection and joy is truly inconceivable. A realm of innocence has become a place of fear, for parents as well as children.
It is just so wrong.
Consider this: Great Britain had exactly 42 gun-related deaths in 2008. The U.S.? 30,364. Britain has some of the toughest gun-control laws in the world. In fact, most police personnel in the U.K. do not even carry firearms.
Would stricter gun laws have prevented this tragedy? In all likelihood, yes. Of course, this can be debated, foolishly and incomprehensibly. But how bad does a tragedy have to be before we tighten the laws and find out?
As the web fills with guidance (“How to Talk to Your Children About …”) and schools fortify security, re-examine emergency plans and reassure nervous parents, I feel grateful to be so many miles away from it all. I’m not going to have “that talk” with my kids. I’m not going to explain to them that a deranged man did something terrifying at a school, something that — mercifully, for now — is far beyond what their young, innocent minds can fathom. For this, I am lucky.
I know my friends at home are fearful today as they send their babies off to school. What will they hear on the playground? Will they be afraid? Will they still want to go to school? Most of all, will they all be safe? God, I hope so. I really, truly hope so.