Kids love to ask questions. Many of them come out of the blue, kind of like they're trying to catch us off guard to see what we'll come up with for answers.
I love when my daughter asks me things; it means she's curious and interested. I haven't been able to answer them all, sometimes I use the Google crutch, sometimes I tell her to ask her teacher. Most of the time, though, I can come up with some kind of answer that appeases her. Answering your kid's questions is a fun part of parenting, but there's a serious side, too, and I, like many parents since the Newtown shooting, have had to answer some questions I never thought I would have to answer.
Mine was this: "Dad, what's an assault rifle?"
She's 10 and she's asking me what an assault rifle is? Are you kidding?
It's the kind of question that makes a parent think about what kind of society we're raising our kids in.
"Um, an assault rifle is a gun that shoots a lot of bullets really, really fast," I told her, still in shock that my little girl is asking me what an assault rifle is. "It's supposed to be used only by soldiers."
Of course, one answer inevitably leads to another question:
"Then why did the guy in Connecticut have one? Was he a soldier?"
"No, he wasn't a soldier," I said.
"Then how'd he get it?" she asked.
"Sounds like his mom had one."
"His mom had one?"
"How'd she get it?"
"I dunno; she just bought one, I guess."
"Where do you buy an assault rifle?"
"There's a lot of places that sell them; gun shops sell them."
"Why would anyone need one?"
"I don't know, honey. Some people really like guns, some people collect them."
Then came the knock-out question: "That will never happen here, will it?"
How do you answer that? I could've told her it can happen anywhere and scare the pigtails off of her. Or, I could go the other way and say it could never happen to us. In other words, lie. That's the route I took. The last thing I want is for my daughter to be scared to go to school. I don't want to have conversations like this with my 10-year-old daughter. I know I have to, I just don't like the idea of having to explain to her why someone would carry a loaded assault rifle into a school and gun down 20 little kids in the time it takes to eat a kid's meal.
How is a 10-year-old supposed to comprehend this when a 40-year-old can't?
That night, last Friday, I went to bed depressed and with a heavy heart after watching about two hours worth of CNN coverage on the shootings. I thought about what I would do if something like that happened at her school, and, again couldn't believe those thoughts were even running through my mind.
And then it dawned on me: This isn't just about guns. You can have all the gun control you want (the more the better, I say) but the fact is, assault rifles, for some reason, are already out there, and they're everywhere - you can't make stricter gun control retroactive. So that leaves us with another alternative: arm superintendents and principals. Some already are, but I shudder at the thought of my daughter's principal walking around with a piece. Why? Because it's just not right, that's why.
I'm not going to go all political on you, because frankly, even if all the guns in the world were to disappear tomorrow, there would still be people upset. Instead of trying to analyze how Adam Lanza came to possess so many weapons, can we please focus on his state of mind and helping people who need it most - the Lanzas and Loughners of the world? The gun debate will never go away, and finding common ground on the issue is next to impossible since it's become so political and so divisive.
It's good to have conversations with your kids about what happened in Newtown, and when you do, be prepared to answer some questions you might not have seen coming. I really wasn't, but I'm glad we had a talk.
Funny, here I was worried about having the inevitable sex talk with my daughter. Compared to explaining what an assault rifle is, that's nothin'.
The following poem was emailed around to Marshall Middle School, and Park Side and West Side staffs earlier this week. It's worth sharing:
'twas 11 days before Christmas, around 9:38
when 20 beautiful children stormed through heaven's gate.
their smiles were contagious, their laughter filled the air.
they could hardly believe all the beauty they saw there.
they were filled with such joy, they didn't know what to say.
they remembered nothing of what had happened earlier that day.
"where are we?" asked a little girl, as quiet as a mouse.
"this is heaven." declared a small boy. "we're spending Christmas at God's house."
when what to their wondering eyes did appear,
but Jesus, their savior, the children gathered near.
He looked at them and smiled, and they smiled just the same.
then He opened His arms and He called them by name.
and in that moment was joy, that only heaven can bring
those children all flew into the arms of their King
and as they lingered in the warmth of His embrace,
one small girl turned and looked at Jesus' face.
and as if He could read all the questions she had
He gently whispered to her, "I'll take care of mom and dad."
then He looked down on earth, the world far below
He saw all of the hurt, the sorrow, and woe
then He closed His eyes and He outstretched His hand,
"Let My power and presence re-enter this land!"
"may this country be delivered from the hands of fools"
"I'm taking back my nation. I'm taking back my schools!"
then He and the children stood up without a sound.
"come now my children, let me show you around."
excitement filled the space, some skipped and some ran.
all displaying enthusiasm that only a small child can.
and i heard Him proclaim as He walked out of sight,
"in the midst of this darkness, I AM STILL THE LIGHT."
- Written by Cameo Smith, Mt. Wolf, PA