By Sheana Ochoa
On the morning Adam Lanza discharged countless bullets on two rooms full of children and staff in Connecticut I was sound asleep next to my four-year-old son in Los Angeles. His grandpa was visiting and using his room so he slept with Mommy and Daddy. On the morning of the Newtown massacre, my son and I awoke, opened our eyes and smiled at each other. By then the children were dead. The rainstorm from the previous night had passed, but the temperature had dropped and my son and I stayed snug under the covers. “Will you scratch my back?” he asked and I did, reveling in the touch of his silky skin, still so much like a newborn’s. One day that baby softness will toughen from the elements and time. His heart will harden too as he learns prejudice and judgment and fear. This is the problem and there are solutions. It isn’t just my responsibility, though parents play the major role; it is this country’s obligation to help rear healthy, compassionate, and usefully whole human beings. But we need the resources.
As the investigation in Newtown ensued that day, I was still uninformed. My son and I dressed for school. He was excited that I’d be staying at school with him for the Christmas party. Christmas songs punctuated our play as children made paper and yarn stockings and heart-layered Christmas trees. Not all the parents came, and so I helped a couple kids make stockings of their own. We cleaned up, and after all the hullaballoo, the children were placated with plates of cookies and chips and juice. My son, content with treats, asked, “Aren’t you leaving, Mommy? All the other parents are going.” That was my cue so I left and if I had turned on the radio I would’ve heard what happened in Newtown and turned the car around to bring him home, but I did not listen to the news. As twenty bright stars lay extinguished in the classrooms where they fell I was gluing sequins and glitter onto Christmas stockings with my son. Yes, there’s guilt, which is unreasonable. But mostly there’s grief.
The day after the killings I awoke hoping it had been a nightmare, but when I saw the front page of the LA Times, I realized it really did happen. And now here were more pictures, more details to burrow into the recesses of my gnawing heart. I couldn’t remember the gunman’s name yesterday. But it rang like an alarm the next day: Adam. Original Man.
On the day of the massacre, it wasn’t until my dad and I were on the 10 freeway heading to UCLA Pain Management (the reason for his visit) that I turned on the radio and heard that 20 children and 6 adults had been slain. Eight and half hours had passed. The gunman was dead too. After my initial disbelief came incomprehension mixed with outrage: Why would somebody attack defenseless children? Then came a strange sympathy. Whoever did this, I thought, must be incredibly sick and in pain.
We don’t spend this country’s abundant resources on our children. On Monday, President Obama addressed Newtown at the high school saying, “This is our first task — caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right.” I agree, but his words are mere platitudes if he doesn’t implement institutional change in health care, social services, teacher’s pay, school security, community awareness, resources for parents, and all the components that create the villages we need to rear healthy children.
If we spent as much money on our children -their empathic instincts, their emotional needs, their handicaps, their education- as we do on the war economy, perhaps Adam Lanza would have been given the tools to deal with his demons early on when he was as unblemished and vulnerable as the children he murdered. Our obsession and consequent immunity to violence has permeated the nation’s very soul. Mass murder doesn’t happen in other countries on this scale, and it’s escalating. The president is aware of this. Talking to the citizens of Newtown, he said, “There have been an endless series of deadly shootings across the country, almost daily reports of victims, many of them children, in small towns and big cities all across America.” Obama said we have to change, but again, how is he, as our leader, going to do this?
As I waited for my father in the doctor’s office on the day of the shootings I visualized picking up my son. At his preschool, the door is locked and there’s a buzzer. A staff member sees the person at the door on a monitor and unlocks the door. There’s a sign-in/out sheet at the entrance, more to track attendance than as a security precaution. When I first enrolled my son, I remember thinking how unattractive this system was -the gates, the buzzer, having to wait for someone to let me in. At Sandy Hook Elementary, the late Principal Hochsprung had just installed the exact same security measures. It didn’t prevent Adam Lanza from entering the school.
At my son’s preschool, a substitute or class helper can buzz someone in. To clarify: they don’t have to necessarily identify or recognize who they are letting in with the children. It isn’t monitored. This has to change. We must institute a universal security system in every school throughout the country.
When I enrolled my son I signed a release form listing the specific people that could take him to and from school. It should be required that the parent supply the school with photos of these people and when someone announces that they are dropping off or picking up a specific child, there should be a security guard whose only job is to man the door, verifying on his computer that the person standing at the door matches the photo of the people on the child’s release form. Software would have to be developed. Cameras would have to be installed with a 360-degree view of the entrance. Employees would be required to meet with a relative or associate outside the school premises. These are logical and reasonable precautions. It isn’t rocket science. It surely wouldn’t cost a fraction of what we spend on our defense budget.
Without a doubt school safety is an issue of national security. These are demands every parent in this country needs to make. How many times will we live under the delusion that our children are safe with evidence to the contrary? I realize this isn’t fullproof. A “gunman” could still attack children at play outside. Or in the case of Sandy Hook, he could force his way in through a window. But deterrents must be put in place if for no other reason than to buy time to call for help and secure the children in a bulletproof safe room out of harm’s way.
When I finally retuned home from the hospital, my son was watching a cartoon, happy to see me, but engrossed in the action hero. I hugged him, felt his baby smooth skin. As much as I wanted to hold him all night, I had to keep my distance, as my heart was in such turmoil, cycling between shock and fear and tears. I didn’t want to frighten him. I let him stay up after Daddy and Grandpa went to bed. We watched a Christmas movie and ate sweets, my gratitude overflowing. The parents whose children didn’t come home from school could not even say goodbye to their kids.
Before the first Adam committed the original sin of knowledge he knew nothing of fear. He lived in harmony with the world. Whether one believes that Adam’s fall was a fable or truth, it boils down to the same principle just like the laws of physics which we seem to have no problem following. That principle guides the spiritual, or moral, laws of our higher selves. The first Adam turned his back on his higher self when he placed self-will above that of the Universe. The moral of the story is that we all suffer when self-interest is placed above the greater good, that of the community and most importantly that of our most valuable asset, our children. Children in this country are not taught and have fewer and fewer examples of how to listen to their higher selves. Nor do they have the resources to get back on track when they lose their way. We have forsaken them. But we can change the destructive course we’re on. We can create the villages they need to thrive by investing in our schools and communities and by supporting parents.
A universal security system is simply one small measure of protecting our children, but it doesn’t resolve the root problem. The president has the majority of Americans supporting him. It is our job to let him know what we want him to do. It is our obligation to listen to our higher selves and prevent the massacre at Sandy Hook from happening again. Again, this is an issue of national security -not the war in Afghanistan, drones, or semiautomatic guns.