These are the last days of school in America.
Children are supposed to be partying, dusted with potluck popcorn, coming home sticky. Done with standardized tests, done navigating another confusing pandemic year, done being pawns in the bizarre political schemes of adults, they’re supposed to enjoy the spoils of their labor.
They’re supposed to be stuffed with pizza and Oreos, celebrating all summer birthdays in a single week, shrieking, running on playgrounds. They’re supposed to bounce into cars and buses and the arms of tired parents compelled to buy too many yearbooks and T-shirts. So many T-shirts. They’re supposed to be sent off in gleeful parades, in long lines with claps. They’re supposed to plunk down heavy backpacks and not open them until fall.
But it happened. Again. Nineteen children and two adults dead — so far — shot down at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas. A nation wailed again, slipping into the same exhausted rhetoric, gearing up for the numb, fulsome fight, the one where everyone has an opinion but nothing, nothing, nothing ever gets done.
It’s supposed to be a sickly sweet time, a time to exhale, reassess, rest. A time for parents to share a laugh and an eye roll, not to stagger to their cars alone. A time for strong, underpaid, tired teachers to get a well-deserved break. With Scantrons in, SignUpGenius quiet, desks wiped clear of Dixie Crystals, it’s a time to find kids hanging off railings in the car line, slumped like melty Hershey’s Miniatures, all arms and legs and summer-ready.
Instead, it’s a time to ask when, not if. When’s my turn? My family? My child? Will it be in the grocery store? A festival? Church? School? Beach? Did someone drop something, or was that a shot? Was that a car backfiring, or was that a shot? Is someone yelling because they’re having fun, or should I flee?
None of it is incomprehensible. Not inconceivable. Not unimaginable. It’s tangible and it’s real and it’s an endless, morose cyclone to nowhere. When 20 schoolchildren and six staff members were killed in Sandy Hook, and when the leaders of this country could not reach a consensus for a federal policy adjustment of any sort, we crossed an invisible line. Nothing was too shocking. Not 58 at a Las Vegas country concert. Not 49 at an Orlando LGBTQ nightclub. Not 17 at a Florida high school. Not 10 at a Buffalo supermarket less than two weeks ago.
So, we send our kids to school and hope for the best. They practice hiding under desks and barricading doors and standing on toilet seats as if they’re rehearsing a play.
It’s a sick nation that won’t entertain a conversation about common-sense, constitutionally sound paths off this catastrophic merry-go-round. It’s a vain nation that will so easily move on. It’s a traumatized nation that will accept atrocities no other developed country accepts. It’s a defeated nation, a resigned nation, a scared nation.
They’re supposed to be blowing off class work and watching movies. They’re supposed to be performing xylophone solos, peeling their paintings off walls, making plans for summer fun. They’re supposed to be tired and full and silly and happy and proud, and they’re supposed to be alive.