Nature and hugs – two ways to stop the violence

Last Friday, I sat in my office watching the snow fall, delaying the brutally tedious task of reporting a year full of projects, contacts, outcomes and evaluation results. In an attempt to procrastinate, I switched to the Internet and checked the latest news. And what I saw, like so many of you, in Newtown, Conn., absolutely devastated me.

As a parent, it is impossible to imagine what these families endured, and what they will have to endure the rest of their lives. Every school day we say goodbye to our kids – at front doors, bus stops and in front of schools in the pseudo-controlled chaos – never thinking that they are in danger. Once they enter those big metal doors, someone else takes their hands for the next seven hours. And it’s easy to forget that. We ask a lot from their teachers: to fill their brains with math, stories, art projects and science; teach them empathy, sympathy and the ability to share; to do their best to send the kids home with the same winter gear they came with; and to keep them safe.

But even by safe, I never thought that I would expect them to have to save lives, like the music teacher in Newtown did, by quickly assessing the severity of the situation and taking immediate action. Maryrose Kristopik locked one door, barricaded another with instruments and hustled her kids into a closet and told them to be quiet. And she told them she loved them.

It worked. The gunman reportedly tried to enter the room, was unable, and quickly moved on.

So while I may complain that I have to deal with early-release from schools every Friday, maybe on one of those Fridays the school discussed what they would do when an emergency arose. If our schools have a plan to keep our children safe, then you can have all the Friday afternoons you want.

But, first and foremost, the responsibility for these kids falls directly on the shoulders of parents. In the simplest of speech, we need to teach them right from wrong, good from bad. Of course it is never that easy, and in today’s fast-paced, technology-driven society, it’s easy for kids to feel vulnerable. They need to know that it is OK to fail – it will happen again; that if you fall, getting up makes it a lot better; and that for every “love” there will probably be a “lost.” And just as importantly, that they see us, as parents/adults/teachers/discipliners, fail, fall and lose. It’s OK.

I do not know the reason why these tragedies occur, and why they, heartbreakingly so, happen to kids. I don’t have a solution to violence, gun-related or not, and when I talked to my kids this last week regarding the events, I didn’t have all the answers. But as a parent who will do anything to protect my children, I do know that it seems all too easy to get a gun. I cannot come up with a reason why anyone not in the military would need a clip that can hold 100 rounds of bullets and shoot as many as 60 per minute, nor am I comfortable with how violence lives so comfortably within our society. First-person shooter video games, which sell in the millions every year, have become so realistic that professional snipers use them to hone their skills.

While I may be naive, I am sure of one thing: My kids will shut the screens off, hug their mom and dad, grab a sled and head outside. Get your kids involved with groups like 4-H, The Garden Project, Durango Nature Studies, parks and recreation, and many more. They will open a kid’s eyes to the wonder, the excitement and the healing power of nature.

Lastly, hug your kids (or your friend’s or neighbor’s kids, who cares) and tell them you love them.

Every day.

parmenterdm@co.laplata.co.us or 382-6464. Darrin Parmenter is director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office.