One year ago, I was driving my 15-year-old son to work. It was the day before he was to start ninth grade. On our way, I noticed the line of cars for pickup at the various schools in Sartell, where we live. Suddenly I had a mini-panic attack and thought to myself should I be buying bullet-proof backpack inserts and is it too late? What if a shooting happens on the first day and I cannot get one in time?

Back to school time. A crisp nip in the air, the summer humidity fades, farmers begin to prepare for winter and the kids head back to school. In my life, this has always been my favorite season. Hustle and bustle. This used to be a tradition we celebrated: pictures on the front steps, mothers taking the day off for some much needed “me time,” parents everywhere releasing that big giant breath they have been holding all summer while their children were enmeshed into their lives every day.

Everything is different now. Instead of breathing out, we are all breathing a long silent breath in as we wonder when what if someday the phone buzzes with notifications, “breaking news” is flashed across the screens, or our coworkers say in a meeting “Don’t your kids go to ABC school?” It’s the dreaded time you realize your greatest fears have come true. We continue to hold our breath. There seems to be no end in sight.

I am not shocked or surprised that we are here. I, like most, have seen this day coming since 2016, even earlier. We are living in a moment where violence is defended vigorously, even perpetuated by those in power. The system in which we all depend upon is completely broken, and most people are stuck somewhere along the way in a pothole. We have turned the business of managing government to serve the people into a side show for sale by the highest bidding corporation willing to paste their logo at the bottom of the screen.

I am not only worried about shooting incidents in schools. I am even more worried about the risk our kids face from being subjected to other abuses such as hate speech, bullying and harassment. The “mood” today among adults is TENSE. And nobody is going to back away from their positions. Love it or hate it, that is where we are today. But are we really looking at how this is affecting our own children?

I am not even sure that I am angry that we are here. I know the system must break to be built back up better able to serve the people it is intended to serve. I know that. But how are we, as human beings, justifying that against the facts that in America, in this moment, when we send our kids to school, it’s possible they may be traumatized by a school shooting, experience a school shooting, know someone who experienced a school shooting or even die from a school shooting. How are we resolving that in our minds as mothers? Are we ignoring it, are we brushing it aside? Are we simply living in denial like “that will never happen here” or minimizing it by saying “it’s not that bad; it’s exaggerated.” I am tortured by this problem. This is a very heavy weight to carry as a mother. Are we all OK with this?! So many of us tortured every day when school is in session?

I am terrified. A lot of mothers are. We do not know the right thing to do to reduce the risk that our children will be killed at school. Say that sentence out loud. That is what we are facing in every school year, and it terrifying.

In the end, I did not buy the backpack insert. I am not sure what that means, but it makes me even more confused and terrified. Buying an insert is too small of an act to impact the big problem at hand everywhere. Our kids are not all right. None of us are all right.

(Melissa Whitlock is a Sartell resident and mother.)

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