'There Is No Handbook For This': A Mother And Son Talk About School Shootings

Mar 22, 2018
Originally published on March 23, 2018 9:55 am

As families around the country search for answers in the wake of school shootings in Parkland, Fla. and elsewhere, parents and children are having conversations that would've been almost unfathomable a generation ago.

Dezmond Floyd is a 10-year-old student in Houston. At StoryCorps, he and his mother, Tanai Benard, 34, talk about the active shooter drills in his fifth-grade classroom.

"What emergency drills did you have as you were growing up in school?" he asks.

Tanai says she only participated in fire and tornado drills. She now teaches a technology and engineering course for 7th and 8th graders. She says so far this year, her school hasn't conducted any active shooter drills.

"Can you tell me exactly what happens?" Tanai asks her son.

"The teacher is supposed to lock the door, turn the lights off and push this big desk behind the door," Dezmond says. "And the first time I did an active shooter drill I saw her having a hard time with it, so I decided to come help her. Because if she doesn't get the desk on the door in time, the intruder can open it."

"So what do you do next after you push the table?" Tanai asks.

"The class is supposed to stand on the back wall. But I decided to stand in front of the class, because I want to take the bullet and save my friends," Dezmond says.

"Does your teacher ask you to stand in front of the class?" the mother asks.

"No," Dezmond says. "My life matters but, it's kind of like, there's one person that can come home to the family, or there can be 22 people that come home to a family."

Dezmond's choice doesn't sit well with his mom. "Do you know why it's hard for me to accept that?" she asks him.

"Because I'm such a young age, I shouldn't really be giving my life up — like, you shouldn't have to worry about that," he says.

"Right," Tanai says. "If there's any a time that I want you to be selfish, it's then. I need you to come home."

Tanai presses further: "So would you still stand in front of your friends, even with me telling you not to?"

"Yes."

"I get that you would want me to come home," Dezmond continues, "but it's really not a choice that you can make. It's a choice that I have to make."

"I see now that there's nothing I could say that would change your mind," Tanai says. "I just hope that it never comes to that."

"Talking about this makes me feel sad, but you raised a good person," Dezmond says.

"And this is why I can't have the conversation with you," Tanai says. "You keep saying things like that and I'm speechless. You're 10. And you're that 10-year-old who doesn't clean their room, and there is no handbook for this."

Tanai says that's why this conversation — one they've had before — always ends in silence. "Because I'm a mother, and I don't know what to say."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Jud Esty-Kendall and Jasmyn Belcher-Morris.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And our conversation about schools and guns continues this morning with this week's StoryCorps. We have a mother talking with her son about the active shooter drills in his fifth-grade classroom. Dezmond Floyd is 10. He lives in Houston. He spoke with his mother, Tanai Benard.

DEZMOND: What emergency drills did you have as you were growing up in school?

TANAI BENARD: Fire drills and tornado drills, and that was it. So can you tell me exactly what happens in active shooter drills?

DEZMOND: The teacher's supposed to lock the door, turn the lights off and push this big desk behind the door. And the first time I did an active shooter drill, I saw her having a hard time with it so I decided to come help her because if she doesn't get the desk on the door in time, the intruder can open it.

BENARD: So what do you do next? After you push the table?

DEZMOND: The class is supposed to stand on the back wall. But I decided to stand in front of the class because I want to take the bully and save my friends.

BENARD: So did your teacher ask you to stand in front of the class?

DEZMOND: No. My life matters, but, it's kind of like, there's one person that can come home to the family, or there can be 22 people that come home to the family.

BENARD: Do you know why it's hard for me to accept that?

DEZMOND: Because I'm such a young age, I shouldn't really be giving my life up. Like, you shouldn't have to worry about that.

BENARD: Right. If there's any a time that I want you to be selfish, it's then. I need you to come home. So would you still stand in front of your friends even with me telling you not to?

DEZMOND: Yes. I get that you would want me to come home, but it's really not a choice that you can make. It's a choice that I have to make.

BENARD: I see now that there's nothing I can say that would change your mind. I just hope that it never comes to that.

DEZMOND: Talking about this makes me feel sad. But you raised a good person.

BENARD: And this is why I can't have the conversation with you. You keep saying things like that, and I'm speechless. You're 10. And you're that 10-year-old who doesn't clean their room, and (laughter). There's no handbook for this. This is why the conversation always ends between you and I in dead silence. Because I'm a mother, and - I don't know what to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: That's Tanai Benard, with her 10-year-old son, Dezmond, at StoryCorps in Houston. Their conversation will be archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.