Our son Luke, at our old neighborhood park in Brentwood, TN.

How ironic this picture showed up today on my Facebook memories because yesterday we got a dose of reality. That the innocence my post from five years ago mentions, is something that as parents you come to terms with being lost; the innocence of children to be able to live freely without worry. To embrace the beauty and the joy and to do so safely.

Unfortunately they reach a point in life where the harshness of this world meets up to them. As a parent, it’s an anxiously awaited milestone – knowing that one day you’ll have to help your children understand that there are people in this world that want to harm them and others. That certain people have hate in their heart, with hate being a word we have always used carefully in our home as it represents the worst level of loathing and depreciation of how we feel about something or someone.

At the time of the shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, our scope of Parkland was only what we saw on TV: helicopters flying around, a campus swarmed with police cars and EMT’s, fire and rescue trucks and additional emergency and medical technicians to attend to those involved. A month later we took the kids to DC for Spring Break not realizing the march on Washington in support of tougher gun laws after yet another tragic school shooting and (again) the loss of so many lives, was taking place at the same time of our planned trip. We met and encountered many families there with their family and it was equally sad as it was awkward. Because at that time – and even still since we didn’t live here when that occurred – it seemed surreal – and incomprehensible. Yet as parents, Dan and I found ourselves silently speaking to each other across the restaurant table with the sentiment of, “thank God we don’t live there….thank God this didn’t happen in our community.” It was our unspoken relief that it hadn’t been us impacted that allowed us to walk away not fully realizing the impact it would have on the community – forever.

Another move…

When Dan was promoted and we knew South Florida would become our home – Parkland was the community that kept being recommended as the best place to live, raise a family and send them to school. We had moved three times in less than eight years so we knew the drill when trying to find a solid community: great, distance to the city-life, drive time of the work commute and proximity to Target and Costco. Still, Parkland kept coming up and we kept circling back to it for all those reasons even when I’d suggest another community relatively close by.

Parkland it was. But I was hesitant.

Dan had been traveling back and forth so he’d seen the community and even driven by the high school where the shooting happened. He kept telling me how beautiful a community it was, that it was like Pleasantville. He’d state to me with such passion as if he was trying to convince himself of the same fact, that if something that tragic could happen in a community as pristine and as perfect as Parkland, then there wasn’t a doubt in his mind that it could happen absolutely anywhere. Acknowledging it is one thing. Having to go through it – something entirely unimaginable until you’re in it. I wouldn’t experience that knowing and come to that realization until I was in the car with our real estate agent, pulling up to the guard gate of the community that we would end up calling home.

Outside the guard stand, carefully placed and painted, are stones that represent each of the people who lost their lives that Valentine’s Day. Throughout the house hunting process we were constantly reminded of what had been done to this community; that a piece of its soul had been crushed that day, its innocence and the shield of its perfectly curated bubble of safety had been penetrated and dinged. We talked with families who’d been impacted because their son or daughter was best friends with one, or several, of the victims. No need at that point to even consider asking why they were wanting to move. Ultimately we found a home that had been gutted and renovated – a blank space. A clean slate. We love our home and our community and we have continued to make our house a home as we plan to stay here long-term and lay down roots for our family to grow and thrive.

Yesterday was a reminder to us that what happened on February 14, 2018 is something that will take this community a long time to recover from.

Our older two just recently returned to in-person school as it is still a choice in our district to be virtual or attend live. While on a team call for work my phone starts blowing up with calls from both my children’s schools. Email messages and texts soon followed. I immediately texted my daughter to ask if everything was okay as my heart rate increased and anxiety started to overcome me. The thoughts that immediately come to mind make it the worst. I texted my husband – ‘what is a Code Red?’ He responds – “locked down.” This means there has been a report or threat of weapons on campus. Shortly after my team call ended, I received a phone call from my daughter’s science teacher who confirmed she was in fact, okay, and right in front of him at her computer. He was calling all of the parents to let them know their children were safe. Relief!

Later in the morning we received an email from our middle son’s teacher that he; the one with the precious smile on the swing five years ago in the Facebook post, had gotten really scared when the boys in the class had to be locked in the bathroom because some of the boys were talking during the Code Red. I know my son, my sensitive, fun-loving Luke the Duke. The kid who is so carefree and go with the flow that he literally fights us on only two things: eating pizza and the length of time he’s allowed to play his video games.

My mama bear heart knew that he was scared because he thought talking equaled a shooter hearing them and that could lead to him being hurt, or worse – getting killed. As I spoke with the social worker – who was beyond incredible – that had called to follow up and check in on how Luke was feeling, my heart broke at trying to take on his fear and scaredness in that moment. These are the tough conversations and situations of motherhood that no one ever prepares you for. There is no manual for how to talk with your children about what could happen to them simply by going to school and – being a kid. There is no roadmap for “how to help your child through a Code Red” because each child is also so different. Our oldest, and the one whose school was the main source of the threat, wasn’t necessarily phased. Until she saw what it was doing to those teachers and students around her who’d lived through that day almost 3 years ago.

The trauma of such an event like that will never be forgotten by those who experienced it.

And it’s triggered by two words: Code Red.

As we discussed the events of yesterday as a family, over burritos from one of our favorite local places, Los Bocados, we reminded our kids to be mindful of the impact of such a traumatic event on the lives of those who lived through it. We validated their thoughts and feelings and empathized with our Luke, because every person deals with stress and processes it differently. And they should never be made to feel ashamed for letting those feelings be shown through visible signs like crying.

Growing Roots and Building a Future…

This morning we converted our 7-year ARM to a 30 year conventional mortgage, symbolizing just how much we plan to be here long-term and desire to make Parkland the place where our family will thrive and our children will learn and grow up. No community is perfect. I’ve always known that even though in every move we’ve ever made it’s exactly what we were attempting to find. But it’s in its imperfections that we find a community’s lifeblood: comprised of its beauty, it’s parks, distance to fun city life and commutes to work, proximity to Target and Costco…and its people.

Its people will always be the most important and Parkland has some of the best we’ve ever met.

~ Confessions of a Corporate Mom

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