Monday, December 17, 2012

Are My Children Safer in France?

Before we moved to France, we lived in a town called Arlington, just a few miles from downtown Boston. It's a sweet, middle-class community populated by a mix of life-long residents, many now living in the homes where they grew up, and young families drawn by good schools, quality housing and proximity to urban life. There are lots of parks, a wooded bike path, decent restaurants and kids everywhere. In many ways, it's an idyllic place to raise a family.

When we lived there, my son started kindergarten at our local elementary school. It was, again, almost idyllic. The school was just a few blocks from our home. Groups of kids walked together through the leaf-strewn streets that fanned out around the school, crossing guards manned nearby intersections and parents were welcome to get involved. It felt safe.

                                                 Walking to school in our old neighborhood.

And yet, in the days since the atrocities in Connecticut, I've been haunted by thoughts of Arlington. Just a few hundred miles from Sandy Hook, I imagine my friends gathered in clusters on Arlington's playgrounds, sending their kids to school and volunteering in classrooms. I know they are scared. In the wake of news like this, what parent isn't?

I cannot help but wonder, somewhat guiltily: Are my kids actually safer in France?

Like so many mothers, I believe that my very first job as a parent is to keep my kids safe. Even on days when I'm least proud of my parenting -- when I've been tired, less attentive or less patient than I'd like to be -- I always console myself with one basic fact as I tuck my children in each night: They are safe. No matter what else I did that day, they are alive and well. And that is something.

And yet I know rationally that threats are everywhere, that the relative safety I feel here in Paris has little to do with geography and is, simply, a state of mind. Harm could come to them just as easily here as anywhere. We are, after all, in the heart of a big city, buzzing with dangers and joys in equal measure. Threats abound everyday -- in the streets we must cross, in the strangers we must trust, in the lives we must lead as fully functioning human beings.

I do, however, know this: They will not be killed by gunfire in their school.

So are they safer in France? Probably not. But are they safer from guns? No doubt about it. 

The loss of young life in Connecticut is beyond rational comprehension. Unlike loved ones in the U.S., I have the luxury of shielding myself and my children from much of this crushing news. I simply cannot bear it and the reasons are obvious. It brings to the fore all that we fear most: That out of the blue, through no fault of our own, something evil and horrendous will take from us that which we treasure above all else. That this should happen to ones so young is the realization of our darkest imaginings. That they should be harmed in their havens of learning, growth, social connection and joy is truly inconceivable. A realm of innocence has become a place of fear, for parents as well as children.

It is just so wrong.

Consider this: Great Britain had exactly 42 gun-related deaths in 2008. The U.S.? 30,364. Britain has some of the toughest gun-control laws in the world. In fact, most police personnel in the U.K. do not even carry firearms.

Would stricter gun laws have prevented this tragedy? In all likelihood, yes. Of course, this can be debated, foolishly and incomprehensibly. But how bad does a tragedy have to be before we tighten the laws and find out?

As the web fills with guidance ("How to Talk to Your Children About ...") and schools fortify security, re-examine emergency plans and reassure nervous parents, I feel grateful to be so many miles away from it all. I'm not going to have "that talk" with my kids. I'm not going to explain to them that a deranged man did something terrifying at a school, something that -- mercifully, for now -- is far beyond what their young, innocent minds can fathom. For this, I am lucky.

I know my friends at home are fearful today as they send their babies off to school. What will they hear on the playground? Will they be afraid? Will they still want to go to school? Most of all, will they all be safe? God, I hope so. I really, truly hope so.


At December 17, 2012 at 1:33 PM , Blogger Pam said...

i agree with you. we just moved from duxbury mass. also a safe, idyllic new england town. until friday. if we still lived in that town i KNOW i'd be nervous to send my children to school..i might even be considering homeschooling. after emailing with friends back home..this is how they're feeling today.
but now we live in paris. my children attend the heavily guarded american school. i felt at ease sending them to school today. of course i'm not ignorant. of course i understand that there are many threats in this world we live in today. but do i think that my children will be gunned down in their classrooms? no.
when will our country learn.
when will we put our childrens' lives as a priority over our "right" to own a gun.

At December 17, 2012 at 4:45 PM , Blogger Kristin Chalmers Photography said...

We are victims of terrorism that we as a nation have created. Don't believe me? Look how afraid everyone is now to send their child to school. We are triple locking our doors, afraid to talk to anyone for fear they may be packing. The media has instigated this fear 10 fold! Yes this happened. Yes it sucks. Yes, lack gun laws are way to blame, along with our healthcare system ignoring mental illness, and the have and the have-nots. When I hear people saying 'We NEVER thought this could happen HERE!"when they interview people, I want to throw a shoe at my TV. This kind of thing can happen anywhere! I used to go to school in the projects of Philadelphia and my friends has to walk through shit to get to school. Guess what, so did I. I was never afraid, and I was NEVER bothered. This was a neighborhood where crime was everywhere, but no one bothered us. It could have happened, but it didn't.

We have created these terrorists by allowing them access to weapons easier than it is to adopt a pet. We as a nation are to blame. When will it stop? When more rich white neighborhoods fall victim to the terror that families in the inner city have experienced all their lives. Terror that we have created through ultra violence on TV, in video games, in sports and god knows what else. Meanwhile, people freak the fuck out when they see boobs! Nursing boobs! Please, get your priorities straight people!

My son has no idea what happened and his teacher just texted informing me that no child has mentioned it either. They are living their lives, going to school, playing and learning. The adults are the one's that are freaking out all over the place. That fear is completely contagious and causes anxiety in our youth that they just don't need. I'm not saying don't have a conversation about what happened, but I feel it is necessary only if the child asks.

We don't watch the news anymore. It's not news. At least not in this country for sure. If it ain't on NPR or the BBC, it's not news in my book.

I was afraid to send my child to school, but not because it wasn't safe, but more because I was afraid of what his friends may say. So far so good.

At December 17, 2012 at 5:24 PM , Blogger Lynn said...

Totally agree. I feel much safer in Paris than I did in the United States, where I knew any person could be carrying a gun. I am sick of the right to own a gun being higher priority than my right to feel and be safe. I'm fine with guns for hunting, but in my mind there is no reason for a civilian to own a military-grade weapon.

At December 17, 2012 at 5:36 PM , Blogger Little Pieces of Light said...

I share your sentiments exactly - not sure if they are safer in France overall, but am sure that they are safer from guns! I really do believe better gun control would have a great impact in preventing tragedies like Connecticut. It doesn't mean gun bans, but stricter regulations about who gets access to guns and how they are allowed to use them. I truly hope this event will help galvanise public support for stronger gun regulations, but given the recent statements I've heard from the American political class, sadly I'm not sure even this event will result in stricter gun control in the USA...



At December 17, 2012 at 7:16 PM , Blogger French Girl in Seattle said...

Interesting post, and thoughtful comments from your readers. I am going to mention this on my blog's Facebook page if that is all right with you, and see what my readers have to say... Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

At December 18, 2012 at 11:29 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel safer in France. I feel my child is safer here than in England. She is still a child at 15 compared to some very street wise girls there. That has pluses and minuses. Not having the street savy may mean she is in more danger....who knows?
I am not sure that she is safer from guns. The UK doesn't have guns but here there are hunters and accidents happen all the time in rural France. She will not be shot in the classroom but maybe while out walking or playing in the woods. Only recently a man shot his own son in the vines when hunting.
I still feel safer here. I feel it is a calmer life, a more peaceful one.

At December 19, 2012 at 5:54 AM , Blogger Marjorie Preval said...

You know what? I'm from NYC and I was scared to send my little to school this morning. Yesterday we had "mommy & me" day where I kept her home. My mother was upset with me and said to live in fear is no way to live at all. But in the light of recent events, I'm not awarded many options. When I was younger, my mother's biggest concern was whether my brother and I crossed the main road safely on our way to and from school. That was then.

Unfortunately, I had to explain to my almost 6 year old the horrible things that took place on Friday as all the news channels are covering it extensively. They were her age. 20 kids that had everything going for them up until Friday morning. It's too much. Though I told her, she didn't really comprehend the severity of it all, her mind probably on more pressing matters such as her upcoming birthday that is the day before Christmas. You know, innocent child-like issues. She shouldn't have to worry about shootings that occur at school, malls and movie theaters. No one should. But it's is now a problem that cannot be ignored.

I just closed out my final fall semester and have one last one to complete before the two of us relocate to Paris in the summer. I want to leave now. I keep reassuring myself that I'm not scared or running away from the States, but an 11 year old brought a gun to school today in Utah at the encouragement of his parents for safety. Some extreme gun advocates are pushing for looser gun laws in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting. More guns in schools to prevent tragedies like the one in Newtown. That's all we need now if for schools in the US to morph into a battlefield of sorts. When has fighting fire with fire ever worked? I'm tired.

Envoyé de mon iPhone

At December 19, 2012 at 4:44 PM , Blogger Paige said...

It's such a terrible thing. I only hope this will be the much-belated wake up call that's needed on gun control in the US. Like you, I cannot help imagining our little New England town as I hear and read the news of that elementary school.

So glad to hear you are settling in well here in Paris!

At December 19, 2012 at 4:48 PM , Blogger Paige said...

I read that some parents in Utah sent their son to school yesterday with a gun "to protect himself." Insanity. If this is finally the tragedy that brings about change, it is so long overdue. I remember working on gun control issues while doing political campaigns in the early 1990s in the wake of the LA riots. It's gotten so much worse since then. If not now, when?

At December 19, 2012 at 10:07 PM , Blogger Kristin Chalmers Photography said...

OMG that is the most insane thing I have ever heard of in my whole life!

At December 19, 2012 at 10:17 PM , Blogger Kristin Chalmers Photography said...

Did your child ask you what happened or did you tell her voluntarily? My 8 year old knows nothing and I will not bring it up until he asks me. I will, of course, be honest with him without trying to instill more fear. Try not to buy into what the press wants you to feel, horrified to live your life and let your child live theirs as well. We have not watched any news at all, although I did finally give in and watch the story on 60 minutes that tried to confirm what was true and what what hysterical rag media 'journalism'.

I too am horrified at what has happened here in America and I have lived abroad on and off in the Netherlands and England for a short time. Believe me, if we didn't have family that we were close to, I would be packing up my family now. But not because of this whole thing (that's a fraction of why of course), but for the lifestyle as a whole. Try to remember that we are actually safer in many ways than we ever have been, so to speak. Cell phone, video cameras, access to information, safety precautions at every turn. Nothing is perfect. And yes, it sucks.

Today was my son's holiday concert and the whole horror in CT finally had an impact on me in a big way, but I refuse to let it paralyze my every move. My kid feels enough anxiety every day, my being worried and expressing it over and over, just makes it 10 times worse for him and me.

At December 19, 2012 at 11:46 PM , Blogger Marjorie Preval said...

She asked me when the photos of kids were being shown and it was brought up at school. Not sure how I would have felt about her teacher discussing it if I had not discussed it with her previously.

I know what you mean about leaving your family behind. I'm very close to mine and most of them live here in NY. Where we are on Long Island has been pretty safe, but a couple of months ago a Nassau cop was shot and killed up the street from us while performing a routine traffic stop in the same area I waited for my bus just 30 minutes before. It shook me up. I love my family but I have to think about what's best for the little's well being.

There is no control on guns, it's way out of hand.

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