The first time I set foot in my daughter’s kindergarten classroom is the morning after the Uvalde school shooting. Because of COVID restrictions, families were not allowed on campus for most of the year, but I need to drop her off late after a doctor’s appointment. As we drive from the doctor’s office across the city to campus, I grip the steering wheel too tightly. My chest feels tight. I am dropping my daughter off at school, just like the parents at Robb Elementary did only yesterday. I tell myself she will be safe. 

I try to make myself believe it. 

I drive the car past the metal gate where I typically pick my daughter up and park near the corner. The gate is closed now, since the school day has already begun. In the afternoon, at dismissal, it stands open to the courtyard. Middle school students stream in and out and parents stroll in to pick up their elementary students waiting by the community garden and climbing on the “spiderweb.” It would be so easy for someone to walk in. 

I hold my daughter’s hand as we walk around the corner and climb the stairs to the front door. This is as far into the school as I’ve ever been. I ring the bell and someone buzzes us in. I step into a new landscape, though one that is instantly familiar. I have worked in so many schools of my own over the past fifteen years and in some ways, all schools look exactly the same. 

I stop at the main office and the receptionist waves us on. My daughter leads me down the hallway, past the open door to a classroom with sounds of laughter spilling out and around the corner with colorful posters and lockers decorated with stickers lining the walls, to Salón 110. 

As I walk down the hall, I cannot imagine a school shooting happening here. But of course I do. 

At the entrance of room 110, I wave to my daughter’s teacher and watch as my daughter puts her backpack in her locker. She shows me the stickers she’s put up. I give her a hug before she races off to use the restroom. All the while, my mind, heart and head are in three different places. Back in my car, hands gripping the steering wheel once more, I let the tears slide down my cheeks. Allow myself a moment of grief before starting the car and driving home.

* * * 

Thirty-some years ago, when I was a junior in high school, I came home from school early one day and turned on the television to find news on every channel – the shooting at Columbine High School. I sat alone in my living room, watching in silence as images of teenagers running out of the building with their hands on their heads filled the screen. 

As my mother’s car made its way up the driveway, I shut off the television. She took me to a doctor’s appointment–the reason I had come home early–where the doctor checked my aching ears. She cleaned them out with a device that irrigated my ear canal with water. The machine hummed and cool water filled my ear and trickled down the side of my neck. I started crying. 

“It’s okay,” the doctor said. “I know it can sometimes hurt a little. It will be over soon.” I didn’t have the words to tell her that it wasn’t the pain. I was thinking of those students running from the building, flanked by police officers holding guns. Up to that point, school was always a safe, almost sacred, space for me. 

She doesn’t know, I thought. 

* * * 

Three days after first walking the halls of her school–four days after Uvalde–I am back on campus for my daughter’s kindergarten class graduation. I arrive a few minutes late, so I have to wait in the hallway as the kindergarten classes file past to make their way into the courtyard. The children are wearing red mortarboard hats, too big for their little heads. Smiles split their faces. A buzz of excitement fills the air. Once the students are in place, I dart out and find a spot to watch the ceremony. The students sing: 

Somos como las flores 

En el jardín de la vida

Somos como las flores 

Necesitamos la lluvia y el sol 

My limited knowledge of Spanish is good enough for me to understand the words. We are like flowers in the garden of life. We are like flowers. We need the rain and the sun. My eyes fill as I once again think of the children in Uvalde who no longer have a chance to grow. Their faces flash through my mind. I don’t understand how anyone can choose to end those lives. To stop those beautiful flowers from growing. 

I pause. I focus on my breath. Bring myself back to the present moment. I look at the children in front of me, singing joyfully. These are the children in front of me right now. I watch my daughter in her yellow dress and red mortarboard. I will be the rain and the sun for her in the best way I know how. 

I hope that it will be enough.