The Day After

by Charity

I’m not OK. But I’m OK not being OK.

I was managing yesterday’s events in Uvalde, TX to the best of my abilities- along with the rest of the world. I was not ok, but I was ok. I had friends reach out to me to say it wasn’t a good day in the news world and to stay offline. But news travels fast in my STEM community- and that’s ok. I actually greatly appreciated the communication and it allowed me to get information in a healthy manner. I didn’t read any news, but I still was able to get some updates. As it got worse and worse over the course of a few hours, I was starting to get more emotional and a lot of memories started overwhelming me. Usually, it’s just a memory here and there, or a trigger when a police car zooms by, but I was feeling everything all at once. I was fairly proud of myself for keeping it relatively together. That is until I pulled this shirt out of Aubrey’s backpack. 

“Future Innovator on the Way. Class of 2034”

It was game-over for me.

It’s a STEM tradition for kindies to wear this at their graduation ceremony. All three of my kids got to do it. But in light of recent events, my heart shattered as I thought about all the kids whose future was grossly stripped from them. These kids will not see 2034. And the ones that do get to see it will never be the same. The STEM shooting taught me to count my blessings and hug my kids tight every single day. I always think it’s possible it’ll be the last time I get to hug them, because not a single second beyond the one we are living is guaranteed in this life.

There’s something different when it’s elementary. Young kids who have been on this earth for only a handful of years, or barely two, is something I can’t swallow. These kids still had their innocence intact. The world hadn’t corrupted them yet. And it’s impossible to accept. The world lost future doctors, lawyers, teachers, entrepreneurs, business men and women, innovators, managers, engineers, missionaries, teachers, friends and so many other wonderful professions we can’t even imagine. The world lost smiles, goodness, laughter and innocence. The world potentially lost the cure to cancer and a U.S. president. The world lost enthusiastic KIDS who still saw school as this magical place where they got to learn and play with their friends. The place where their biggest obstacle of the day should be weather or not they get an extra recess or a juice box at lunch. Not dodging bullets, hiding in terror and screaming for their lives. But more importantly than all of that- moms and dads lost their babies. Their sweet innocent babies who had barely started their lives. This astronomically growing “club” just gained thousands more members yesterday. And there is a long road in front of everyone in the school and community. 

I think about something like this happening every single day when I drop my kids off at school. Every. Single. Day. The last thing I say to them when they get out of the car is, “Have a great day. I love you.” I do this to pour in something good into their souls because it might be the only positive thing they hear all day. I also do this because if my last words to them are “I love you,” then I’m ok with that. Maybe if they find themselves in this unimaginable situation (again) they will cling to those words. I know they won’t leave this earth without knowing that truth. It’s the most I can preemptively do for them in that moment of no return when I’m completely helpless.

I went to bed and woke up in the same space that I did just over 3 years ago. There’s this weird moment, probably a microsecond (if you have slept at all), where you wake up and your mind hasn’t caught up with your body yet. Almost like your mind has forgotten, but your body is still sending all the same trauma signals, and you can’t quite figure out what’s going on and why you feel so terrible. Then everything aligns and all your emotions come flooding together creating the perfect storm for trauma to take over with no mercy. I experienced the same thing again this morning. And my heart goes out to all the people who had to experience that for the first time today- the day after. Where you wake up and realize it wasn’t just a nightmare and that you are actually living the nightmare. It’s like the trauma happening all over again.
The STEM shooting happened at 1:58pm. I was sitting in driveline yesterday and got a notification on my phone shortly after 2:00 saying that this event had happened and that 2 people had died. My heart sank as it always does when news like this breaks, but there was that one word- elementary. And all the feelings of May 7, 2019 rushed over me at the same time. All of them. I looked out my front windshield and it was a flashback playing out like a movie on the bigscreen. I was in the exact same spot when I found out about the STEM shooting. I saw my car. I saw myself getting out of the car. I saw all the emergency vehicles. I saw the lady who was screaming and crying on the phone running away from the school and brushing past me as I stood by myself in complete shock and horror. I saw people running to the school and people running away from the school. I saw myself just standing there, not knowing what to do. I saw myself get back in the car and then out again because I literally didn’t know what to do. I saw the concern on my kids’ faces from the backseat. I heard the helicopters starting to circle above my head. It’s the movie that runs over and over in my head no matter how many times I want it to stop. But yesterday, I wasn’t just watching a piece of it; it triggered a replay of the entire movie. (If you want to read about all the details of my experience during the day of the shooting, you can read that here.)
I hear so many people asking, “How do I send my kids to school now?” I have a little bit of a different perspective because I’ve lived this nightmare as a parent, but the answer is sickening. 

I’ve had three years of school drop off post-shooting. At the beginning, I was living in paralytic fear every time I got into driveline. The anxiety would build as we got closer and closer to the school each morning. I worked with a therapist, I gave myself grace and I had to make a huge shift in my thinking. I could live in fear, or I could accept that yes, this is something that has happened and could very well happen again to my family. I decided on the latter. That decision didn’t happen overnight. I took years, and if I’m being completely honest with myself, Im still not 100% there yet. But, I decided to accept the possibility of another school shooting and to make the most of the time I’m given with my family. Maybe it’s 1 day, or 1 week, 1 year or 11 years. But living in fear took too much of my joy and my ability to live in the present. I was missing everything good happening in the present. So yes, I accept the possibility that my kid(s) may not come home from school today because someone decides to take a gun to school and shoot them. Again, sickening. It’s not fair and it’s not right, but it’s my reality, and a reflection of the broken world we live in. I also take a huge sigh of relief when they get into the car at the end of the day. And I thank the universe for one more day where my kids come home alive.

And now for my mental health rant-
Take care of yours. Be gentle with yourself and allow yourself to feel the feelings. It doesn’t matter if you were not directly connected to this most recent event. Any human being in their right mind (respectably) should feel something, and it’s ok. Talk to someone about it. A therapist, a friend, a hotline, anyone. And don’t feel guilty about it. Find a support group- in person or on social media. Our school has an amazing resource called the STEM Center for Strength, and that has been an integral part of our healing. This is how we take strides in making change and erase the stigma surrounding mental health. Take care of yourself. Model it for your friends and family. That is an important role anyone can play in this mess if you want to evoke change in this world. Once you are in a healthy headspace, take your anger, energy, sadness, adrenaline and turn it into suitable action. Find your group. Find your cause. Find your people. Don’t wait for your feelings to dissipate and accept it as reality. 

I was overwhelmed with emotion yesterday and I wanted to crawl into a dark space and hide, but I decided I needed to be smarter. So I picked up the phone and called my friend. I told her I was sad and overwhelmed with all the emotions that resurfaced, and she sat on the phone with me while I cried. She didn’t try to give advice, she didn’t try to tell me it was all going to be okay, she didn’t make me feel like I was being dramatic. She just sat with me in that hard space for a few minutes. I just needed a hot minute and she was there. Find a friend like that. 

One of my other friends had a really poignant post yesterday about the conflict of emotions people, especially parents, feel when something like this happens. The gist of it was that life goes on. You still have to open that can of playdough. You still have to make a snack and sign that homework paper. But then you go into the bathroom so you can have a minute to yourself to try to process your feelings, only until some little fingers appear under the door and someone says they’ve spilled a glass of milk or need help tying their shoes. They ask why you look sad, but also want to know when dinner will be ready. It just really captured what the heart of a parent is like during a time like this. So don’t feel like there’s something wrong with you if you can’t quite pinpoint what you are feeling. No one really can. I had to put on my happy face and go celebrate my 6-year-old’s graduation from kindergarten while my insides were screaming with sadness, fear and anger.

My heart is shattered into a thousand pieces and all I can do right now is say I’m sending love and an endless amount of hugs to the Uvalde community today. I will continue to do all the actionable work I can to make a positive change in this area. Know you are not alone and there are many people fighting this fight. This is the beginning of an endless journey that no one deserves to be on, and we are here for you all. We will support you from 3,000 miles away. You say you need us and we’ll be on the first plane to visit you, a stranger, who is no longer a stranger because we are connected in a way that all too many of us understand.

I seriously do not want to see one more hashtag that ends in the word “strong.”


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