Two nights before the middle school talent show and five days after the Newtown tragedy, we received a robo-call from the school administration.
Safety was their biggest concern, they assured us. There had been all sorts of rumors circulating on social media, but no legitimate threats against the school where my daughter is an 8th grader. And which – incidentally — is right across the street from our house.
Still, we were advised to talk to our preteens. To discourage them from spreading rumors. And to calm these escalated emotions.
Of course, of course. Who among us wasn’t feeling hyper-vigilant that week?
Who among us still doesn’t worry?
“What are the rumors?” I asked my daughter. She didn’t know. She has a Facebook account, but none of her friends were talking about this gossip.
One day before the talent show and the school administration announced that the show was postponed until after winter break. By then, we knew more about the circulating stories. Because of the Mayan predictions of the world’s end on that Friday afternoon, my daughter reported, students were predicting the entire school’s demise as everyone gathered together for the talent show.
Ridiculous, but there were legitimate copycat concerns after the Connecticut shootings.
The talent show would be postponed until the Friday before the holiday that celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. The exact Friday Leeannah and her brother would be in Montana skiing with their father for the long weekend.
Leeannah, who had been practicing a routine with her cheerleading team for weeks, would have to miss the talent show. She was heartbroken.
And confused. Her father and I had done a good job sheltering her and her brother from the worst details – most of the details – of the Newtown tragedy. She knew there had been a school shooting and that 20 first graders had been killed. She was saddened and wanted to do something for the families and to honor the children. At the same time, she saw a greater police presence at her middle school.
But she didn’t understand the nationwide grief, nor did she comprehend the panic of many of the adults and students around her. And she didn’t understand why the show was postponed.
Would you consider changing your flight, I asked her father. Leave later in the weekend and come back later, so Leeannah could still perform.
Kevin was reluctant. It was costly to change tickets. He reminded me that he spent a lot of money each year to fly the children to Montana, where he lived.
Oh dear, now we were treading on difficult territory. Our family lived in Montana when Kevin and I were still married. After our divorce, we both moved to Maryland, but then he moved back to Montana, and because of that he paid to fly the kids out for visits. Suddenly this was sounding like a sore point to him.
I was overdue for a visit to Bozeman. Maybe I should fly them out and stay to see my friends? But even as I suggested this, I was eyeing the calendar and I knew this wouldn’t work.
If the talent show was that important to her, Kevin said, she could stay home. In other words, he was OK with losing the money had already spent on the ticket. He just didn’t want to spend anymore. We don’t want to teach her that money can always solve a problem, he said. Or that we will always use it to solve a problem.
True enough. But if we adults can’t use our resources to make things right every once in a while, then what is the point of having them?
Now Leeannah would have to choose – to miss a long weekend with her father and his family, or to miss an event her team had been preparing for all fall. Either way, she said, someone will be mad at me.
Ever the overachiever, she tackled the problem straightaway. She made a list of pros and cons. She talked to my mother, a confidante and equality-minded adviser who recommended she called her other grandmother as well. Still, she couldn’t make up her mind. Who would she let down?
Meanwhile, I kept hoping that Kevin would change his mind and pay to change the ticket. I wondered if back in Montana he was hoping I would find a way to fly the children out myself.
Christmas Eve arrived and Leeannah was still struggling with her decision; I was still struggling with the fact that she had this decision to make. Finally I sent Kevin a text. Let’s split the costs of changing the flight. He agreed.
Maybe I solved the problem for my daughter when I should have insisted on making her choose. Maybe her dad and I were idiots for not compromising sooner.
But I didn’t want it to be here or there. It was Christmas. It had been a difficult month with a horrific tragedy. As a teacher in a family of teachers, I selfishly I wanted to know that we adults could still make something right.
In the end, changing plans so that our daughter can attend the middle school talent show was not making the world safer. But it does let her enjoy childhood a little longer. And that’s important, too.