Saying Goodbye from the Car Line

Every day, I drop my two children off at school from the car line. In the wake of yet another school shooting, those goodbyes have been getting more difficult.

by Christian Henderson

On the bad mornings, getting to school is like a mix of a Benny Hill episode and a scene from The Fast and The Furious. My wife and I run around the house in double time, trying to feed and dress a couple of half-naked toddlers. Eventually, we jump in the car and race (carefully) across town to meet the deadline for car line drop off. On the good mornings, it’s a quiet ride filled with semi-coherent toddler questions and semi-coherent parent answers as the coffee takes hold.

But lately, mornings have become heavier, weighted by the worry of school shootings. Our beloved home of Nashville isn’t all that far from the most recent tragedy. Now, as I drop my kids off, I’m filled with sadness, empathy, fear, and anxiety. The morning goodbye from the car line has taken on a different meaning.

My kids are young. Fox is almost 4 years old and Rona, almost 20 months. They attend a supportive Montessori school that does their best to make us parents (and our kids) feel safe. All of the doors have locks, signing in and out is imperative, office windows look out into the parking lot. You can’t get to a classroom without crossing an administrator in the process.

Now, as I drop my kids off, I’m filled with sadness, empathy, fear, and anxiety. The morning goodbye from the carline has taken on a different meaning.

Despite all these precautions, I can’t shake that tinge of fear that my goodbye while dropping them off at carline could potentially be the last. Some time ago, I watched a heartbreaking documentary about the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school shooting. For the parents, the grieving settled with each passing year. They have an unmatchable sadness. They could have never known that morning was the last they’d say goodbye to their young children. They couldn’t have fathomed it could have happened to them, to their school, to their community.

I now can’t help but worry that I will feel what they feel. And if I will have to have that grief settle in like they do.

So as I turn into the school parking lot, the shadow of some potential unknown presence that may shatter my world, looms in the back of my mind. I watch bright-eyed kids bounce out of their respective cars, ready to start their day. And then it’s Fox and Rona’s turn, and it’s time. The teachers get them out of their car seats and I wish them a great day. My oldest, Fox, always stops to make sure I give him a “hug and a smooch” before he sets himself on the path to the school door. I stay parked for as long as I can, so I can watch them walk into the school. I then set off on my day, and the internal clock in my head starts ticking.

For seven hours, I don’t hear from them. I don’t see them. I don’t know what they’re doing. This is the longest period of time they are not within the shout of my voice, the view of my eye or a grab of my hand. I am not claiming to be an action star, or some superhero who can swoop in to save the day, but in this current environment, not being close enough to reach them fills me with a deep dread.

I’m a proactive person at heart. I want to prepare my kids, and get them ready for all the angles that life will take at them. But they are young and wide-eyed and retain a beautiful innocence that the world is and will forever be a wonderful place. It is not time to tell them about what a gun is or that they are often used by bad people to harm others. I don’t even know how to tell them. And, if I did, I don’t know if I would. I just don’t want to. I don’t want to look in their eyes and see the fear that I feel every day.

And so, there I sit in the car line, drinking coffee, and saying goodbye to my kids. I give my oldest a hug and a smooch. I let them go into the world, where they grow to be contributing members of our community, one day at a time. And I hope each day they will be safe. But I will carry this dread with me until I know things are better and do my best not to translate it to my kids. Until then, I will linger at the car line longer, until I see them cross into the school doors. I will hug them harder when I drop them off, and embrace them fuller when they return. For now, that’s what we all can do.