I grew up in a small Kansas town that seemed at the time far removed from just about everything except the Soviet Union. Most of the U.S.’s planes were put together in Wichita (still known as the “Air Capital of the World”), which meant it was a first-strike target by that other superpower. Wichita sits about 130 miles east out on highway 50, and according to predictions and all sorts of maps bloomed with damage estimates, we (give or take a few megatons) would be erased with it. I somehow understood all of this relatively early. We practiced ducking and covering in the middle-school hallway, ostensibly to prepare for tornadoes, but the weather contributed little to the ambient fear of the time.
Shortly after Sandy rewrote the East Coast, my son told me about his class’s hurricane drill. They turned out the lights and were instructed to huddle away from the door and to be very quiet. In the wake of the Newtown shooting — a town just 60 miles north of us — we received messages from the school principal and our kids’ teachers advising us to talk to our children about what happened (best to get out in front of it all) and offering suggestions about how to go about that. The upper grades would dedicate time to questions and discussion. At home we broached and comforted and consoled more or less as advised.
This will be the legacy of Newtown: Mass shooting is a children’s fear now, one they practice for and live with — one that, unfortunately, can no longer surprise even them.