My brother and I were sitting on the couch chatting about politics last winter when I showed him a segment from the Daily Show. It was a humor bit about calling a Wyoming elementary school to find out if they had a gun in the event of grizzlies. There was a laugh track and a brief photo of a gun, so it was odd to me when A2 gasped loudly, stood up from the couch waving his hands and both tearfully and fearfully begging, “No gun! No! Shoot, no!”
We are not hunters nor are we gun enthusiasts and neither are my friends. As far as I know, A2 has never seen a gun in person or on TV, given 100% of his viewing includes Barney, The Wiggles and NBA. He has never heard a gun shot. Neither he nor his brother ever pretended things were guns. He has been known to blow some zombie pirates away gleefully at Chuck E. Cheese, but those are not even guns.
I reached for him to comfort. He pulled away and continued to plead “no!”
A2’s language disorder renders him without the ability to elaborate and his anxiety rendered him without the ability to say much of anything as he stifled tears. I was perplexed.
The next time I saw his Intervention Specialist, I asked her how they handle lock down at school since I grew up when there were only tornado or fire drills. I literally have no concept of what they do. She informed me they tell the kids it is in case there is someone in the school who should not be. No mentions of guns or lack of personal safety, she assured me.
Fast forward one month.
While visiting my mother out of town, A2 was playing in the bathtub when suddenly he became very quiet. After staring off for a few moments, he pointed and gasped ” No. Shoot. No. Boom!” I tried to follow his gaze, when I saw this….
Apparently, the item of concern was the bottom of an electric toothbrush and he would not get out of the tub until I removed it from the bathroom.
My child who has no experience with violence or guns knows what a gun barrel pointing in his direction looks like. He knows he should be afraid. And he clearly was now on two very different occasions.
I HAVE NO IDEA WHY.
He is never, ever alone with an adult we don’t know well, generally not even family. His aides are almost always supervised.
There is only one place it is possible. This meant we would have to question the people at the place he spends the most time and we are to have the most trust. The ONLY place where he has potential to be alone with adults without us.
How in the world does one even go about doing that without placing the teachers, therapists and paraprofessionals in a position of not only defensiveness, but of questioning your motives or your sanity as a parent. A2 went 11 years with no mention of guns let alone a knowledge and fear of them. We had no other option than to ask because we don’t have the option of taking anything for granted in our world.
What is the worst case scenario you can imagine for your own child?
Those of us with anxious personalities can come up with a bevy of outrageous ideas when it comes to our child’s safety. However, let me assure you, when you have a child who cannot tell you anything while paired with the knowledge they will likely outlive you, you don’t have to have to be Type A, neurotic, high-maintenance, helicopter or any other of the words that may be assigned to you behind a closed lounge door by people who don’t truly understand the fears of every single parent of a child with a disability. We send our kids out into the world as a leap of faith in their teachers, therapists and caregivers. And we also have no choice but to accept whatever the answers are when they have nothing solid to give us in moments like this.
I have worried about many things throughout A2’s life, but gun violence/gun safety has been super low on the list of worries that keep me up at night. (Let that one sink in for a minute….). Almost more so than my frenzied concern over where A2 might have gained this new-found awareness was my sadness in knowing something stole a level of innocence from his blissful naivite about how the world works. We don’t have difficult discussions in the way my friends do with their children when they show up wide-eyed and fearful about confusing and upsetting events of the world around us. So many things that we as adults keep our fingers crossed behind our backs as we reassure them they are safe, hoping with all our souls we are right. I have assumed because A2 has not seen hurricane devastation up close and personal, cannot conceptualize a mushroom cloud and has never seen an automatic weapon mow down 500 people while enjoying themselves at a concert that he does not contemplate or worry about his own safety in these ways. That the things that fill his iPad with cartoon characters and songs about fruit salad are all he should worry about. Man alive…I am pretty sure I was wrong. Maybe the belief this is true is to protect my psyche, not his.
I have to take my best guesses as far as what my child does and doesn’t understand about the world. I also have to take my best guesses as to how he is affected by those things. It’s not wrong for me to shelter my tween from guns. For us, there is no meaningful teaching of gun safety or exposure that doesn’t end in a loop of doing it wrong somehow. The stern warning of “STOP! DON’T TOUCH! LEAVE THE AREA! GET AN ADULT!” is a useless four-step command since my child can only follow a two-step with any regularity. He certainly doesn’t have the fine motor skills to learn the power and healthy respect a gun commands under adult supervision at the shooting range.
So according to the professionals, my non-dangerously-mentally-ill kid (who does not have an aggressive or hateful bone in his body) who can technically have a gun just like everyone else when he is 18, can’t be taught how to handle it carefully, how to shoot it or when to use it, yet I am to expose him to firearms in a way that won’t frighten him and also so he knows they are not toys and won’t pick them up. I would very much like the manual on how to do that.
There are 300 million guns in the US. It sounds like my child has seen one of them in a way that caused him a great deal of upset and anxiety and how that happened will likely always remain a mystery. We have dulled our senses and turned down the volume on what we are willing to accept as normal here. And this uncomfortable truth will eventually spill over onto my beautiful boy who can never tell me what happened.