Christine Bryant – Columbus Messenger

Personal Column – First Place

Trying to explain the unexplainable

This past week, I had a conversation with my daughter that many parents across this country had following the Parkland, Fla., school shooting.

It was a conversation I in no way wanted to have.

It was awkward, frustrating and difficult – and yet countless times through the five-minute conversation I had to remind myself that the discomfort I was feeling was far easier than what the families of 17 students were experiencing at that moment.

As my 6-year-old maintained eye contact with me, and nodded her head as I spoke, I thought that perhaps the words coming out of my mouth about what she should do if something bad were to happen at her school were resonating with her.

As a kindergarten student, though, there’s no possible way she fully could grasp my directions, which were shoddy at best.

I didn’t want to put the thought of a shooter in her mind. I don’t want to talk to my 6-year-old about guns and violence that could someday affect her and her classmates.

I reluctantly went down that path, however, not because I wanted to, but because I had to have that conversation with her.

Like many parents I’m sure, I feel backed into a corner – that I don’t have a choice and that perhaps it’s not in any child’s best interest to look away and think that it could never happen here.

It broke my heart when her response to what I had to say was, “It’s OK, Mommy, if a shooter comes into the school, someone will just shoot the shooter.”

I don’t know what bothered me most – her naiveté, or the fact that in this day and age, her brain is already conditioned to think that a violent situation must require violence in order to end it.

I tried to explain that solutions to situations such as this aren’t that easy, and though help always comes, sometimes it’s not always there right away in the form of police officers and other emergency personnel.

There is other help nearby, however, as I explained to her.

As my voice quivered, the best advice in that moment I could give her was to always listen to her teacher – that her teacher will protect her, and if her teacher tells her to run, to always run away from the bad sounds. If she can’t run, hide … in a closet or anywhere she can be quiet.

She replied with a simple, “OK,” and went back to watching her cartoon.

I left feeling even more helpless.

I can’t help but think about everyone who lost their lives Feb. 14, including the educators who gave their lives to protect the lives of their students, like geography teacher Scott Beigel.

Beigel was shot and killed after unlocking his door and letting students in to hide from the gunman. As he was attempting to re-lock the door, he was killed in the doorway.

Every teacher I know would have done the same.

Educators are heroes for many reasons, and we lost some of our heroes that day.

Though we can’t change what has happened, we can change what happens next. That begins with conversation – and a willingness to have that conversation.

It’s far too easy to hunker down in our beliefs, unwilling to waiver. It’s far more difficult to abandon what you know.

Our kids deserve that much.

How kindergarten changed my daughter – and me

It’s been nine months since a teary eyed mom dropped off her daughter for kindergarten, uncertain of what that first day would be like for the daughter, let alone the mom.

I remember thinking how things were about to change – that her toddler years were well behind her and her tween and teen years were just around the corner.

What I didn’t account for was just how much she would change in less than a year.

Academically, she can write and solve some math equations that may stump adults. Now, when we hop in the car, she routinely reads road and business signs along our route. At night during story time, she’s reading to me just as many pages that I read to her.

Beyond academically, however, I’ve seen an incredible shift in her personality – one that is beyond her years. She, of course, acts like a typical 6-year-old in every way, but I’ve also noticed her desire to understand more what it’s like to be an older kid or even adult.

She’s 6, and already has inquired about driving, getting married and having kids. Of course as parents, we want to skip right past those conversations, but I’ve tried to answer any questions she has had (within reason) in order to foster her curiosity.

She also has learned more than I could ever imagine from her friends, for better or worse. In fact, each day after school, I would ask her what she did at school that day, and rather than give me a run down of the curriculum, she would proceed to tell me what so-and-so did that day or that weekend.

Though she’s not always the best at considering others’ feelings (this past Mother’s Day she asked me when Kids’ Day was), I’m certain that by forming these relationships at school, she has started the process of learning how to be a better friend.

For five or six years, we’ve raised our children for the most part on our own. As parents, we were the ones who taught them their first basic life skills – eating, walking, talking. It’s difficult to let go and allow others to play important roles in further building upon these skills and teaching new ones.

I couldn’t be happier with those who have helped her embark upon this journey, and as she continues it now into the 1st grade, I can’t wait to see how she further evolves. I know one day she’s going to be a completely different person than she is now, and mom and dad won’t be the two coolest people on earth.

And that’s ok, because her journey to finding out who she is helping me discover who I am, providing me with a front-row seat to watch how I am changing as well. Whether it’s altering priorities, appreciating the littlest things that 10 years ago I took for granted, or enjoying learning what it’s like to be a child all over again, I’ve found myself evolving as a mom and person as well.

So, as my little one officially graduates from kindergarten this month and moves on to a new challenge, I will be right there beside her, enjoying watching her – and myself – grow.

Reflections on turning 40

Over the past five or so years, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the prospect of turning 40.

For me, it seemed like a huge jump to go from your 30s to your 40s. I remember when I was young, probably in my 20s, turning 40 was like hearing about this faroff land … a place you knew existed, would eventually get to someday, but couldn’t quite comprehend what that would look or feel like.

I didn’t think of it as a dystopia-like place, but it wasn’t exactly utopia either.

Some people say age is just a number, but those who go through midlife crises may disagree.

I used to joke that on my 40th birthday, it would be just like any other day – nothing to see here, move along.

Then I got sick – really sick. And there were a few moments where I began to wonder whether I would even have the opportunity to celebrate that 40th milestone, or have the choice to simply move along.

Earlier this month, I turned 40, and although what I received was the gift of back-to-school germs from my oldest, I spent a lot of time reflecting on what it meant to me to hit that personal milestone.

Sure, turning 40 typically comes with even more gray hairs than I thought possible. I don’t get up off the floor quite as fast as I used to, and I now have to watch what I eat at night so acid reflux doesn’t keep me burning the midnight oil. I’m also a little more worried about what health concerns may start manifesting. It seems like that list of health screenings you should start checking off, one by one, is just around the corner.

Turning 40, however, comes some pretty great things also.

Your teen years are known as the awkward years, but I remember plenty of times when I felt awkward in my 20s and 30s. I had a hard time saying no, and I cared entirely too much about what other people thought of me.

I admit I still do care what people think about me, but only certain people – those who mean something to me.

I’ve also felt a shift in my priorities. I feel more at ease now with knowing what truly matters in life, and though sometimes I drift off course, I actually have a course from which to follow that aligns with my ideals.

You also begin to realize that what you thought would kill you, or what seemed like the end of the world in your 20s and 30s, really won’t end your life. You’ll move on, and you have enough examples from your 20s and 30s to prove it.

Lastly, while there are some aspects of getting older that increases my anxiety, I feel a little more free to take risks – to follow unrealized dreams – and let go when something doesn’t work out.

Maybe that’s my own little personal midlife crisis – instead of feeling regret, act on something before remorse can creep in.

I used to be afraid to turn 40, but I can say without a doubt, now that I am 40, I’m so very happy to be here.

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