When my twin granddaughters returned to their elementary school after winter break, their mother, along with other parents, was handed two yellow cards that she now jealously protects. They are her tickets past the guarded gate and into the school, the hall passes that allow her to walk the 5-year-olds to class.
School as prison. This is the legacy of Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Columbine and the Amish school in Pennsylvania.
Though the massacre of 20 children and six educators in Newtown, Conn., on a cold December day happened almost 1,400 miles away, in a small town unlike the big city I call home, the consequences are being felt in South Florida.
Such reactions are inevitable, of course. After the Columbine shooting in Colorado, schools instituted a host of new safety measures, most notably zero-tolerance policies for remarks or actions that might signal violence. Over the years, many more internal safety procedures have been implemented, all with a single intent: avoiding another school tragedy.
And the measures give us a semblance of security. Until the next shooting. Until a suicidal gunman, someone else's deranged child, gets hold of assault rifles and dozens of rounds of ammunition.
How can you protect against that? Can you really stop an Adam Lanza from forcing his way into a school? Is any shelter truly foolproof?
One of the most difficult and painful lessons that parents learn, some of us sooner than others, is that keeping children from harm is, at best, an illusion. The mere act of living is a gamble, a daily game of chance with dangerous drivers, viruses, bullies, even crashing meteorites. No matter how we try, the inevitable wounds of living, petty and large, will prick, pinch, cut and maybe even scar them for life.
Some parents move to a safer neighborhood in a smaller town, far from the menaces of urban crime, as I imagine a few Newtown and Columbine parents had. Some enroll their kids in martial arts classes, but karate against a hail of bullets ... well, we know the outcome. Others hover over their children, never letting them out of their sight, warning them about talking to strangers and "bad touching," only to discover it's a family member who has victimized them.
Now my kid's kids have a yellow card. A simple yellow card. Not nearly enough, but maybe a start. It is at least the color of safety, proof that we haven't surrendered. But some days ... some days it seems we are powerless against so much.
(Ana Veciana-Suarez is a family columnist for The Miami Herald. Write to her at The Miami Herald, One Herald Plaza, Miami, FL 33132, or send e-mail to aveciana(at)herald.com.)