This year's school supply shopping included bulletproof backpack inserts. We have a problem.
It didn't make me less worried, but I'd do it again in a heartbeat.
I stood in the back-to-school section at Target throwing my kindergartener's school supplies haphazardly in the red cart when suddenly I couldn't catch my breath. I found myself attempting to control a panic attack while deciding between RoseArt and Crayola crayons. (Crayola always wins, even though the price tag is bigger.)
My panic attack wasn't over the crayons, though that would've been easier to stomach. I was flooded with anxiety over having to send my innocent 5-year-old off to school in America. Being a dual-income middle-class family, there's no viable option for me not to send him into a classroom, so I stood in Target with the full weight of sending my youngest child off for an education and a lifetime of trauma.
In the few minutes it took me to understand why I was having trouble breathing, I decided this was the year I'd add bulletproof backpack inserts to the school supply list.
As I read reviews on the different brands of inserts, one company was having a back-to-school sale. "How absurd," I thought to myself. We live in a country where bulletproof inserts for backpacks are so sought after that ballistics companies can have back-to-school sales on them. Give that a moment to sink in.
My disgust over the absurdity of it all didn't stop me from recognizing a good sale, though. After texting my high school children to see if they also wanted an insert, I ordered three and had them expedited to my doorstep. It was an almost instantaneous relief, albeit short-lived.
Woman at a protest holds up a sign that reads, "ENOUGH."Photo by Liam Edwards on Unsplash
My teens had questions, and they weren't completely comforted by the answers I could provide. They wanted to know the ballistic grade and if there was an insert that could withstand assault rifles. My middle son asked if I could buy an extra one so he could have one in the front panel of his backpack and one in the back to increase his protection against an AR-15. To be truthful, the highest grade insert was around $600 and if you multiply that by three it made it out of my price range.
Until I asked my older children about the insert, I had no idea they were calculating what items in their classroom would give them the best protection if a shooter came in. I've seen them walk through school tours like little soldiers trained for war, pointing out spaces that could be easily breached and classrooms that would make it difficult to hide.
My heart broke once more when my adult daughter informed me that she still has nightmares about active shooter drills four years after graduating. What are we doing in our country where traumatizing children from kindergarten up is the norm? How is it that buying a bulletproof insert for backpacks seems like the reasonable option? We don't live in a war-torn country, but preparing for school feels like it.
In one generation, schools went from being worried your bully might try to trip you in the hallway to being worried someone would come in and shoot everyone. I was in high school when Columbine happened and remember thinking that it was a sad isolated incident. It never crossed my mind that school shootings would become normal.
But until something's done about the frequency of school shootings, I'll buy whatever I can to ease my mind and give my kids the best chance of coming back home to me.