We never know when our children are going to do something dangerous, stupid or that will cause us, others or the child embarrassment or, worse, harm.
This point was brought home to me with the ring of a telephone one day last month. On the other end of the phone was the principal of my 5-year-old daughter's school. She quickly assured me no one was physically hurt, but proceeded to inform me of a serious breach in school policy committed by my daughter a short time before.
My daughter, as I said is 5. She will be 6 this month. She has never had a toy gun, other than a small water pistol a neighbor gave her two summers ago. Our family does not hunt. She doesn't watch movies or TV or play video games that involve shooting (although, come to think of it, she did shoot at some safari animals in a game at a local restaurant recently, and she tried her hand at the shooting gallery at Cabela's at a friend's birthday party last year.) But suffice to say, guns are not a part of our everyday lives.
So when the principal told me that Emma made her hand in the shape of a gun and told three of her kindergarten friends "I'm going to shoot you," I was flabbergasted. I just couldn't believe it. I am not, however, the type of knee-jerk reaction parent who proclaims her child is innocent even when the writing is on the wall ... and the marker is in her child's hand. So, I quickly came to terms with the fact she did do it.
While at first I was embarrassed, after being told I needed to pick her up immediately, I began to feel a different emotion. I became secretly indignant. On the drive over, I thought: "Don't all kids 'play-fight' from time to time? It might not be ideal or even acceptable, but isn't it as common as that blasted cold that's been going around this winter? This is crazy."
I did not convey my thoughts to my child upon retrieving her from school, however, but simply told her we'd talk it over at home after I'd had a chance to talk to her father. Despite my misgivings, under no circumstances was I going to undermine the authority of her school. She was in trouble, and that was a fact.
That night, my husband and I discussed the incident and then asked our daughter to tell us exactly what happened. One of the most perplexing pieces to the puzzle was that the friends whom she targeted had done nothing directly to her, nor had they, according to Emma, left her out or bullied her. In her own words, the girls were playing something that "peeved" her. So she "shot" them - !?
While at first I was peeved with how seriously the school took the incident, after talking later with the principal I now understand why, in this day and age, Emma had to be sent home. In fact, if the principal had felt there was malice behind the action, she could have - and would have - suspended Emma. Thank goodness, the school was not forced into a "cookie cutter" reaction, and the context was taken into consideration. But believe me, our kindergartner now knows, even if she doesn't understand why, that you simply don't do what she did that day.
And even though we don't understand why she did it, the fact is, she did.
Postscript: As I was writing this, I learned a third student in the Chardon, Ohio, school shootings died. We must be vigilant against the forces that want to destroy our children, whether it is with guns or sex or other violent and vindictive means. Each of us must take responsibility for our children's safety.