I remember the shocking stillness of parents watching silently as their kids played
on the playground across from my dining room window. The scene defined tragic beauty, the
frolic and merriment of youth, blissfully ignorant of the sadness and worry consuming adults.
It was May 24th, 2022, the day of the elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas – which is
still a struggle to comprehend. We had just moved to Massachusetts after living five years in
Germany. I was numb, watching parents pour into the elementary school to pick up their kids after school that day. Usually only a trickle of students are picked up because most kids take the bus, but that day, and on the days following, there would be dozens of anxious parents and grandparents waiting to take their children safely home.
The following day I went to the store and bought flowers for the school – daisies, a flower representing innocence, purity and motherhood. The florist at the grocery store placed a bundle of 36 pastel blooms dusted with glitter into a plastic bucket with water. I brought them home.
What came next was a shock. I walked into the house, and was confronted by one of my grown daughters. She was angry. And she practically fumed when I asked if she wanted to walk across the street with me to deliver the flowers.
“Really, flowers? Don’t you think that’s naive? she said. “Flowers don’t do anything except make YOU feel better.”
She was right – flowers, although they didn’t solve anything, did make me feel better. I tried to explain. “The staff needs to know they’re seen and appreciated, and while these daisies won’t fix anything, they certainly won’t hurt…and maybe they’ll bring someone a smile.”
We agreed to disagree. My daughter and I mourn differently, and nothing else was said. I took the bucket of flowers across the street, and it was greeted by teary smiles from the school secretary and principal.
But my daughter was right, it wasn’t enough. The following week, I applied for a
position at the school, and I was hired. After nine months of working in their preschool, the
school year is coming to a close, and here we are, shattered by another elementary school
shooting in Nashville, Tennessee.
I held my breath going into school the next morning.
A bright-eyed, red-haired girl, whom I only know by smile, caught up with me in the school hallway, “My birthday’s in two days!” she exclaimed. “Guess how old I’m going to be?”
Her voice shifted and carried weight. “I’m going to be nine.” She paused. “I don’t want to be nine.” I knew nine was the age of the three children who were taken too soon in Nashville. Did she know this, too? My response, “Nine is a great age, I’m excited for you!” I don’t think I lied.
Like the flowers I brought to school last year, I know my actions aren’t changing the world – but working with children is changing me. I’ve had many jobs over the years, and on a good day, I think I did them marginally well. But with kids, I know my work isn’t only good, it’s really good. I know this to be true because I’m the best version of me when I’m with them.
I want these children to grow into adulthood, and for them to never know (or remember) the sadness on adult faces in May of 2022 or March of 2023. I still believe I can do more. I’m trying to figure out what comes next –other than wishing a nine-year-old redhead “Happy birthday” and meaning it.