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This Jewish Prayer Eased My Kid’s Anxiety About School Shooting Drills

shema

It’s been a difficult morning. We are running late because we slept in (again) and my daughter can’t find her shoes (again) and she won’t eat her bagel (again). I’m blaming her and she’s blaming me and we part ways annoyed and frustrated with each other.

As she gets out of the car, she looks back at me a little tearfully. “Sorry, Mama. I don’t like to make you sad.” 

And now, of course, I’m even sadder because as much as she drives me crazy, she is the love of my life and that image of her with tears in her eyes lingers with me all morning. I drink my coffee and eat my breakfast and try to focus on the day ahead, but the bad feeling won’t leave me.

The morning fades away into early afternoon and I’m at my computer, immersed in my work. The cat is sleeping at my feet as I type, his soft breaths easing the stress of the morning. Far away a siren begins to wail and I shift in my seat, waking the cat. We both move towards the window and peek out. 

We live in a small town. Here, the sound of sirens is not easy to ignore: Every ambulance could be your neighbor, your friend, your child (God forbid).

The sound gets louder and my heart kicks up a notch. I look down the street where, just a half mile away, my daughter is (hopefully) sitting at her desk, blissfully unaware of the noise outside. My ears strain to hear which direction it’s coming from. I can’t tell anything except that it’s close. Too close. I pull the cat close for comfort and he bites my finger and runs downstairs to find a snack. Cats are jerks.

A few minutes go by and my heart is still pounding. The noise from the siren has stopped moving and seems to be coming from one place now. Someplace close. Could it be from school?

I sit very still and steady my breaths and try a visualization trick my mother taught me that she does when she’s feeling anxious — something my safta taught her. 

I close my eyes and imagine my daughter bathed in a soft blue light of protection. I think of that healing light bathing her sad eyes from the morning in peace and joy. I picture the light getting stronger, brighter, more solid. I tell myself that, inside that light she’s safe, protected. I tell myself that nothing can penetrate that holy light. 

I don’t know if that trick really does anything, but it makes me feel like I have some control.

It’s always better to feel like you have some control, isn’t it?

After a few moments, my heart begins to slow its pace and I return to my work. If there had been an accident at school I would have heard something by now. Still, the unease lingers with me throughout the afternoon until my daughter runs up the driveway into my arms.

“Today was so scary, Mama!” she tells me. “We had a shooting drill at school.”

The knot that’s been in my stomach all day pulls tighter. Every time these drills happen, she has nightmares for days. They don’t seem to be protecting our kids so much as scaring them more. I hold her tighter and feel her heart beat fast in her chest… from running home? From fear? I’m not sure. 

She tells me about how, during the drill, they had to yell and throw things and run around the classroom to distract the potential shooter. How it was fun, but not the right kind of fun. She tells me that it was different than last year when they had to sit quietly in a closet with the door locked. She tells me that the teachers think this is a better way to be safe if there’s a shooter but she’s not so sure. What do I think?

What I think is that there is no safe way to be if there’s a shooter. What I think is that these drills feel as useless as when we learned to hide under our desks in the event of a nuclear bomb. What I think is that the focus needs to be on finding out why these shootings keep happening, on better gun control laws and more mental health care, not in frightening small children. 

But I don’t tell her that. Instead, I tell her that the teachers have done a lot of research and she should listen to what they tell her to do if, God forbid, a shooter ever comes to their school.

It’s always better to feel like you have some control, isn’t it?

That evening when I come to tuck her in, she’s restless, unhappy.

“It was a really bad day, Mama,” she says. “I feel scared.”

I hold her close and sing “Baby Mine” to her, just like I used to when she was small. I kiss her forehead and remind her that she’s safe here, at home, in her bed, with her father and me right downstairs.

She tells me that she might be safe right now, but what about tomorrow at school? Or on the weekend when we go to the movies? Or next week when we go to the mall for new shoes?

I give her statistics, numbers, a million reassurances. I tell her that as scary as shootings are, they are very, very rare. That she’s safe at school, at the movies, in the mall. That most people are good and not out to hurt her. 

And it’s true, what I’m saying… statistically she is safer than in any other time in history. But those statistics don’t erase the images of Parkland or Newtown or Columbine. They don’t bring back the kids who were lost or comfort the parents who are without them. Still, they’re the only thing I have to offer as comfort — for her and for me.

She hugs me closer and nestles into my shoulder.

“Mama, do you know what I did at school today when I felt scared?” she whispers.

I lean in closer to hear the answer.

“I said that prayer, the one you taught me, the Shema,” she tells me.“ I don’t know if it really helped, but it made me feel a little stronger.” 

I hug her tightly and we say the Shema together. Her shaky voice grows steady as she recites the words our ancestors have called on for comfort since time began. The knot in my stomach eases a bit as I pull the covers up around her. Then I kiss her one more time and close the door. A few minutes later I peek inside and she’s fast asleep.

It’s always better to feel like you have some control, isn’t it?

Image by Ponomariova_Maria via iStock/Getty Images Plus 

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