I was in a dressing room in the Gap when I heard what sounded like a cat being disemboweled near the flannel shirts. It started small, with whimpering. By the time I left the dressing room, the sound had increased exponentially.
It was an enraged boy. For a minute, I wondered if maybe he had lost the adult he’d come into the store with but then noticed the woman paying for her items turn around and make eye contact with the boy before she went back to what she was doing. An older child stood with her back to him a few feet away from where he was standing. She seemed to be in a trance as she stood staring through the plate-glass windows at the front of the store. It was clear that she’d seen this show before.
I have no idea what had set off the explosion, but I left the store thinking about that purple-faced, bawling boy and the river of rage that overflowed its banks and flooded a store. The image of him, out of control and ignored, stayed with me the rest of the day.
The next afternoon, my daughter and I were catching a quick lunch together in a restaurant in downtown Minneapolis and were nearly ready to leave the restaurant when a middle-aged man in the booth next to ours began, loudly, to berate the server who he believed had overcharged him for the lunch he and his family had just eaten. As the young waitress patiently went through the receipt, he became more and more loud, belligerent, and unreasonable as his wife and young son sat in the booth, waiting for the out of control storm to pass, looking unsurprised by his outburst.
Two families. Two tantrums. Two storms. In two days.
In the first 19 days of January, there were 11 shooting-related incidents in high schools or colleges in the U.S. And in every instance, the shooters were young men. Lock-down drills to protect children from other children are as common as fire drills used to be in our educational institutions.
Meanwhile, we argue about the tools used to inflict the harm instead discussing and trying to understand why the rage is there in the first place, why the potential to inflict harm exists in some of our boys.
As a mother of a son and as an educator, I have thought about all of this until my head hurts. Sadly, I have more questions than I do answers. The only thing I know for sure is that the inability to handle frustration in constructive, rather than destructive, ways has to be part of the answer and that this is a skill that can and should be taught.
And I know, without a shadow of doubt, that when we start locking our children into classrooms to keep them safe instead of addressing the reasons why we need to, that we have failed the ones we are locking in as well as the ones we are locking out.
January was a rough month in more ways than one.