An Apology from a Gen X Mom to her Gen Z Kids Regarding Gun Violence

Wouldn’t the world be a better place if all guns shot only marshmallows?

So accustomed are we in the United States to gun violence that yesterday’s shooting at a King Soopers grocery store initially only registered in me slightly more disgust than the shootings last week in Atlanta. When my mother-in-law casually mentioned the developing news story before dinner, I decided not to investigate immediately. The story would likely be the same as we have seen myriad times before. Innocent citizens going about the business of their daily lives, murdered by some disgruntled, disturbed male in possession of a deadly weapon. It was just another day in America, a place where the right to procure military-grade weaponry trumps the right of every day citizens to shop, worship, view movies, attend school, or enjoy a concert or social event without marking out an explicit exit strategy just in case. We accept metal detectors at sporting events and music venues as part of normal life. We sigh when we learn of another shooting, and then we move on and wait for the next one. It’s inevitable as the phases of the moon.

As a graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder and a former 8-year resident of the Boulder area, I naively imagined my favorite college town was immune to such tragedies. Boulder, set against the backdrop of the Flatirons and the Rocky Mountains, is a highly educated, liberal-minded town, the kind of place where the hippy vibe and omnipresent Subaru Outbacks belie a laid back, outdoorsy spirit and not the inner-city mean streets where you might imagine a shooting spree would occur. Boulder, with its protected open spaces, fine dining, and university ties, seemed insulated to me somehow. But nowhere in this country are you safe, and I should have known better than to imagine Boulder was an exception.

I have written about gun violence before. A long-time Colorado resident, I’m no stranger to the spectacle of mass shootings. I was 30 when two teenagers shocked the nation by shooting up Columbine High School in my hometown of Littleton. In 2012, I was 44 when we were returning from a trip to the mountains and I had to inform my sons about a mass casualty event in an Aurora movie theater, 20-some miles from our home. The following year we witnessed another school shooting down the street from our home at Arapahoe High School. Now, in 2021, we once again had to discuss a horrific shooting in a place they have visited many times. They were not exactly surprised.

As a parent, the most difficult part about the proliferation of random gun violence is not the fear of losing my sons in a mass casualty event (although they never get dropped at school — or anywhere else — without that thought crossing my mind), but is instead the tough conversations I have with them after more innocents have been murdered. Our oldest was born two years after Columbine. He and his brother have grown up in a world I could not have imagined as a teenager hanging out in malls and skating rinks and concert halls without a thought in my mind about guns. Their youth was defined by fear of gun-related violence. The toll that school lockdowns and shooting safety drills have taken on their psyches is measurable in their anger, frustration, and anxiety. After I informed my oldest about the shooting yesterday evening, his response was predictable. He immediately became angry, swearing that he would never raise his own children in this country. He then pivoted to fear, asking me if I had given any thought to expatriating to a less gun-happy country. Finally he settled upon bitterness, saying only that he was “done” with it. If in the past 21 years since the violence at Columbine we adults haven’t been able to find a solution to this situation, he knows there is a little hope for change going forward. Our divided political landscape suggests he is correct in this assumption.

Our sons are disillusioned. Their reality is that adults have failed them on sensible gun legislation, among other things. They are frustrated and scared and angry, and you can’t blame them. They are right. The ever-present threat of death at someone else’s gun-toting hands has gifted their generation with legitimate mental duress. When you’ve been doing lockdown drills since elementary school, barricading yourself in a classroom and hiding under your desk in preparation for becoming a human target, you might feel unimportant and unheard. On January 6th when the US Capitol building was attacked by a violent mob, both our sons said that maybe now the lawmakers would be able to understand what it’s like to be a student in today’s schools, to be hiding and fearful. Gen Z is filled with depressed, anxious, and lost individuals. Youth suicide rates climbed 56% between 2007 and 2017. Today’s kids are struggling for many reasons, and the adults in the room seem okay with it. Or at least we don’t seem to care enough about the mental and emotional health of our own children and grandchildren to make substantive changes for them.

I’m sorry, boys. I’m sorry adults in my generation and others haven’t done more to protect you and your peers. I’m sorry I’ve had to tell you too, too many times about lives lost in pointless shootings in schools and theaters and churches and shopping centers. I’m sorry that my donations to organizations fighting for commonsense gun legislation, my letters and calls to our congressional representatives in DC, and my attendance at various protest marches against gun violence weren’t even close to enough to help effectuate meaningful change. I’m sorry that our government hasn’t made headway on this issue and that we’ve accepted that your loss of innocence and sense of personal safety are the price for protecting the Second Amendment and the freedoms of those who choose to own guns. You deserve better. I see that. I see your fears and I know how these preventable tragedies vex you and affect your mental health. Your elders have no legitimate excuses. And I’m sorry.

The Pelican Brief – A Fishy Tale

This is the kind of goldfish problem I could solve.
This is the kind of goldfish problem I could solve.

And from the Sometimes Things Just Work Out file….

A couple of years ago, someone released a few goldfish into a small lake near Boulder, Colorado. Over time, those few fish turned into a population of approximately four thousand goldfish. These goldfish, harmless though they may seem, could as a non-native species potentially damage the local ecosystem for the native fish and birds, so the people at Colorado Parks and Wildlife began working on fixes to the growing quandary. They had narrowed the possible solutions down to either shocking the fish with electric currents and then feeding them to birds of prey at a local raptor rehabilitation facility or draining the entire lake. As of last Friday, the story, which had been picked up and shared by news agencies around the globe, was still being reported on while officials determined the best way to proceed. Today, however, when folks from the Colorado Parks and Wildlife division showed up with trap nets to get a sample of the fish population in the lake, they found 26 green sunfish, two largemouth bass, 10 painted turtles, 18 tiger salamanders, and only four goldfish.

While they were trying to figure out where the goldfish had gone, wildlife biologists observed some American white pelicans feeding on the lake. The pelicans, which migrate to the area for the summer, presumably spied a lake full of bright orange fish calling to them like a neon sign for an all-night cafe on a deserted highway. After the long, migratory trip up north, I imagine they couldn’t believe their luck to find an all-you-can-eat buffet stocked and spread out for them upon their arrival. Ka-ching. 

Without fuss or taxpayer expense, the fishy problem was solved. And now the folks at Colorado Parks and Wildlife can take eradicating the goldfish at Teller Lake Number 5 off their list of things to do. The pelicans, simply doing what pelicans do, unexpectedly made their jobs a little easier. You have to love it when you have a problem and, while you’re racking your brain trying to figure out exactly how to solve that problem, the universe intervenes and takes care of it for you. That, my friends, is kismet.

Still, I can’t help but think how much trouble we humans create for ourselves. Sometimes we carelessly act without thinking how our choice might play out further on down the road. And when we’re not mucking things up for ourselves that way, we’re tangled in the act of solving the problems we unintentionally caused in the first place. I swear sometimes that we’re really not that far off the ape brains we started with.

I am a firm believer that everything we need as a species, everything we have ever needed, is here for us on this planet and we need only look for it. Sometimes, just sometimes, we get a little nudge to remind us of this fact. Today, it was pelicans from heaven.

Surrender Isn’t Always A Bad Thing

Heading up Mesa Trail near Boulder

“Yielding means inner acceptance of what is. You are open to life. When you yield internally, when you surrender, a new dimension of consciousness opens up.”        ~ Eckhart Tolle

Yesterday, Steve and I decided it would be a great day for a family hike. So, we loaded up the car and headed up to Boulder. I found a 4+ mile hike just outside of Boulder near Eldorado Canyon on Trails.com that looked promising, so we went for it. Because we got a late start on the day, it was already 82 degrees when we pulled into the South Mesa Trail parking lot around noon. I knew the boys would whine about the heat, but we were there and Steve and I were bound and determined to get the exercise.

The boys, usually quite able bodied and semi-amenable to hiking, were in rare form from the start. Joe had consumed so much water on the drive up that he was wanting to mark his territory every half mile. Luke, a kid who hates to be either too hot or too cold, was moving slowly and in a constant state of whine about how sweaty he was. Being not the world’s most sympathetic person (understatement), I told them that if they’d stop using so much energy to complain they’d have more energy to hike faster and finish sooner. True story.

The first mile was a bit rough as the boys complained and dragged their feet, hoping we would suspend the exercise. We were annoyed but persisted in our determination to complete the hike. During the entire second mile, I was fairly certain my husband (who is one of the most patient people I have ever known) would eventually strangle Luke, who could not seem to tamp down his whining. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about children, it’s that they’re like animals; they can smell hesitancy and fear and will use your weakness against you. Luke was working it.

As Luke whimpered and cried foul, Steve went from grimacing about it to full on bitching at him while I went to my happy place. I’m not sure what it is about Boulder that makes me so dang happy, but I’m at peace there. As the war between Luke and his father began to escalate, I became increasingly calm. I took turns talking to both of them, positioning myself in between them as a buffer, and trying to resolve the situation with a positive attitude. The more they bickered, the less I seemed to care. I was able to focus on the beauty of the landscape, the pine scent rising from the trees, the cool breeze on my sun-warmed skin, and the joy of being somewhere that I love to be with the people who mean the most surrounding me. I escaped from the negativity of the situation by focusing on what I loved rather than on what I disliked. It was very zen of me, I thought.

As we got into the third mile, we hit the forest and Luke was shaded enough to stop whining a bit. Joe had at last peed himself out. Steve had nothing left to feel frustrated about. The hike became what I envisioned it would be, a fun little walk with my family somewhere new. I’m not sure if it was my attitude that diffused the negativity or the negativity that changed my own attitude, but something made the whole experience positive rather than negative and we ended the 4.5 mile hike feeling good about it overall.

How often do we tense up when things aren’t going the way we want and in our tension merely compound the situation? Sometimes, the best thing we can do when things get rough is to let go of expectation and relax. And, as we yield to the way things are rather than dreaming of the way we wanted things to be, we make peace with the present moment and life begins to look not quite as bad as we thought. Occasionally we waste too much energy on a battle when we should surrender instead. Sometimes making peace with a situation is not a defeat at all but a victory in disguise.