A few years ago, I volunteered to teach my daughter’s kindergarten class all about Seurat and pointillism during Art Awareness Month, one of the most rewarding mornings I’ve ever spent.
I put more time and effort into that presentation than I ever have any creative pitch I’ve ever been involved in professionally. Marketing wonks are easy to impress, just pepper your narrative with a lot of jargon (“So the ROI on this activation ideation will be both integrated and experiential…”) and they’ll believe you’re the smartest guy in the room. Trust me, it works.
But jargon has no hold on a room full of hyperactive 5-year-olds; they can see right through that crap. You better be on your game with this crowd because I promise you, these kids have a much more finely tuned BS detector than most marketing professionals I've worked with, and they are not afraid to call you out when something doesn't make sense.
The morning of my presentation I lugged a portfolio full of sample art prints and a backpack full of construction paper and crayons right through the front door of my daughter’s school. I set everything down in the vestibule and spent about 10 minutes strolling the halls admiring the paintings and graded papers taped to the walls. No one approached me, no one questioned why I was there. Nor did it really occur to me that anyone should.
After a few minutes I gathered up my prints and headed down the hall to my daughter’s classroom, her teacher waved me inside, and I set up while she explained to the class who I was and what we were going to talk about. Once I began (I’ll never forget how my daughter kept whispering “Hi, DaaaDee” throughout the entire lesson) the teacher left the room, leaving me alone with the kids.
In hindsight I feel angry that our school did not have some kind of security measures in place, some kind of visitors policy that would have kept a complete stranger like me from just strolling right in the front door with a backpack that could have contained anything. How can they have allowed that? What were they thinking? It seems beyond irresponsible not to have a locked main door in a school full of vulnerable kids, not to have a security officer stationed near the entrance, not to be required to check in at the office and wear a signed and time stamped visitors badge while on school property. How could I have just strolled right in?
But that’s both the gift and brutal scourge of hindsight, perfect 20/20 vision. Hindsight is the soulless phantom that will forever haunt the parents who will spend a lifetime asking themselves, "Why did I send my child to school that day?"
The answer is because it was Friday, and my kids go to school on Friday.
Hindsight will trick you into believing there was a sign, some random signal you somehow missed. Maybe you considered whether your son’s sniffles were enough to keep him home that day, maybe you considered getting an early start on a weekend trip. Maybe you recall feeling something strange when you dropped them off that morning, like the lone survivor of an airline crash who tells the media that boarding the plane that morning just didn’t feel right when the truth is he or she just overslept and missed the flight.
Hindsight can play tricks with our minds.
The cruelest trick played by hindsight is making you blame yourself for events that were always beyond your control, always beyond your ability to change. Hindsight can smother solace despite the overwhelming support of a nation.
As the horrific events at Sandy Hook Elementary unfolded last Friday and every CNN update became more sickening and unimaginable, the gray spectre of hindsight visited me and I became completely preoccupied with trying to recall if I had told my kids I loved them before I left the house that morning. I literally could not focus on anything in front of me.
I was obsessed with every moment from our morning routine: Did I make bacon for my son? Did I help comb my daughter’s hair? Did I say I love you? Was that yesterday or the day before? Every parent knows the challenges of getting the kids off to school in the morning would try the patience of a saint, and it's easy to forget the tiny moments, the small hours that matter. That morning I just couldn’t recall anything, my mind went blank.
Hindsight led to panic. I had an urge to run from my desk, jump in a cab, pay the driver extra to push 90 mph on the Eisenhower and burst into my kids' classrooms just to give them a hug. The real irony is that I could have done it—before Monday, the front door to my kids' school wasn’t locked.
The one positive that has emerged is that our district (Downers Grove Grade School District 58) has changed that policy and I’m grateful. But it can’t be the only change that evolves from this horrible tragedy. In the same way that the abduction and murder of little Amber Hagerman launched a campaign to have Amber Alert systems established nationwide, this senseless tragedy has to lead to a positive change. It has to.
I refuse to believe that an introverted and socially awkward young man could commit the most horrific crime anyone has witnessed in their lifetimes and we all simply go back to work Monday morning. For the sake of all those tiny angels, it simply can’t end that way. I can’t bear looking back in hindsight and realizing that this moment was lost and nothing was done.
Like all of you, I don’t have any ready answers but I’m willing to be part of any dialogue that might lead to a safer community for our kids to grow up in.
The cynics will tell you (they all ready have) that you can’t protect your kids every hour of every day, and that’s fine. Let’s start with the five hours or so they’re in school. Let’s start there and we will worry about the community and mental health and the definition of the Second Amendment later. Let’s use hindsight for something positive for a change.
No one should ever have to plan a child’s funeral at Christmastime.
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