By Leah Richards
“I had my backpack on my back, just in case I got shot in the back, it would go through my bookbag and my books, I just ran…” Masiel Baluja – Student: Stoneman Douglas High School – Source: CNN
I will tell him to run. My son. I will tell him to put his backpack on and run. I will tell him to be smart, like you, Masiel. If he hears the pops going off in a hallway of his school, I will tell him to put on his backpack and run.
Last week, my son, he’s four, told his teacher during circle time that he loved her, and he was proud of himself. Not embarrassed in the least. Because school is still fun for him, and he loves his teacher, this kind, bubbly, gentle, patient facilitator of the fun. She is the perfect first teacher for my boy — she sings songs with him, and lets him wiggle when wiggling needs to be done. She has taught him to count and comforted him with stickers and kindness on the days that might be a little rough. I will tell him not to worry about his teacher. I will tell him to put his backpack on and run.
Yesterday, my son’s best friend, a boy, made him a Valentine’s Day card. We live far away from our home right now. We live in Abu Dhabi. We live in the Middle East. My son’s best friend is named Hamdan, his mother wears a hijab, and they are so very kind to us. The Valentine’s card said: Hamdan and Abel: Forever Friends. The words were misspelled and it was scrawled in a concentrated pencil. This, one of the first best friendships for my son, is precious to see and watch grow. When my son is in high school, we will probably be back in the United States, our home. I will tell him not to worry about any of his friends. I will tell him to put his backpack on and run.
We are trying. We are trying so hard to raise our son to be kind. He opens the door for me now, and those doors are so heavy for his little four-year-old arms. We’ve cautioned him not to push others out of the way. We’ve instructed him to let others go before him. To be selfless. He already has it in him, this tender heart, and now he’s learning all the rules in this world. He likes rules. I will tell him not to worry about the rules. I will tell him to put his backpack on and run.
And maybe that’s cruel. Maybe that’s less of what we need. Because I’m certain that we need more selflessness in this world. More tender hearts. More dreams that are bright and full of hope. But he is my boy. My first and only one. And if I’m sending him unarmed into battle, then, more than anything, more than kindness, more than selflessness, I want him to survive.
So I will be selfish. I will remember the words of this girl and whisper them into my son’s hair in the dark so that he will think that they may just be a dream. I will tell him to put his backpack on and run.
About the Author
Leah Richards is from New Orleans, Louisiana, but currently resides in the beautiful city of Abu Dhabi with her husband, two kids, and a world-traveling dog and cat. Her works have appeared in: Where Y’at Magazine, Mother’s Always Write, and Sammiches and Psych Meds. She finds time to write when her baby is sleeping, her toddler is at school, her husband is at work, and none of her animals need to be fed.