It’s the end of term two today in NSW. The culmination of semester one means report cards and parent-teacher interviews, little markers for the school children in our lives.
Yesterday afternoon over tea and muffins in the backyard, while the kids played, a friend and I were exchanging notes.
Are we doing enough reading with our five year olds? Are we doing their sight words regularly enough? Is it possible to have three small children, as we both do, and adequately support their educational needs?
On a daily basis, we both agreed, it doesn’t always feel that way.
There are days and weeks where supporting the emotional, educational and physical needs of three individual children seems a perpetually just-out-of-reach ambition. Even in families with two engaged parents who couldn’t be less inclined towards anything resembling the ‘tiger’ model of child rearing.
And so we discuss their reading. Their capacity for focus, for making friends, for taking care of their belongings. The subtext is not one upmanship, ‘Aren’t I fabulous parent?’ nor ‘Isn’t my child a genius?’. It’s ‘Dear Lord please let us not stuff this up’.
This angst, trivial though it might be, is well intended: proof that doing the best we can for our kids is the paramount objective, something that really matters.
A few hours later my phone lit up with breaking news that made me feel sick recalling the innocence, futility and utter indulgence of these ‘concerns’.
Police have launched a manhunt for the person responsible for shooting dead two teenagers inside a home in Sydney's north west.
A 15-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl were found dead in the bedroom of their West Pennant hills home last night. https://t.co/ZKqbIWcTRP
— Sky News Australia (@SkyNewsAust) July 5, 2018
Two kids had been shot in Sydney and the police were searching for the suspect – a man reportedly in his 50s believed to be their father.
Their dad. He shot them in their bedrooms. A 13 year old girl and a 15 year old boy. Brother and sister. Fairfax Media reported that seven ambulances and a helicopter attended the house in north-west Sydney but there was nothing the first responders could do.
Their mum, in her 30s, returned to discover this horror happened in her own home. Her two children had been murdered by their father. Shot dead.
The father’s body was found by police this morning. The 68-year old had shot himself afterwards with guns he obtained legally earlier this year.
NSW police say the shooting deaths of the two teenagers in West Pennant Hills was "premeditated and planned". The shooter, their 68-year-old father, was found dead with two guns nearby, in another location https://t.co/lWJtW8QfAW
— The Sydney Morning Herald (@smh) July 6, 2018
The incoming chief executive of White Ribbon Tracy McLeod Howe says this violent crime is the ultimate abuse of power.
“It’s about destroying the thing most precious to this woman and that’s her kids,” McLeod-Howe says. “Today is a day for mourning the murder of two teenagers. I’m thinking about them today. Two children gone for no reason. It’s the worst. These kids have lost the opportunity for life.”
The ‘reason’ for this is that their father travelled to the most abhorrent end of the continuum whereby a man believes he is entitled to exercise power and ownership over his partner.
McLeod Howe says it doesn’t matter how often we try paint these horrific crimes as merely an aberration – the result of a few psychopaths – it’s simply inaccurate.
“It’s about power imbalance and gender inequality,” she says. “It’s not about “#NotAllMen it’s that we have some men who think they own the women in their lives. The core issue is that there isn’t equality in our communities.”
— Tracy McLeod Howe (@TracyMcLeodHowe) July 5, 2018
Domestic violence is so common that McLeod Howe says it cannot be explained as the work of psychopaths.
“It’s such a dominant thread in our society that the perpetrators cannot all be psychopaths, she says. “It’s just not possible. I do have a strong belief though that we can change the trajectory for some men and shift this behaviour.”
Two years ago was this man imagining that he would do this? That he would be the guy that shoots his kids? Howe McLeod says it’s hard to imagine many men picturing that but the behaviours that lead down that path begin a lot earlier and might seem a lot more innocent.
“It starts with boys checking their girlfriend’s text messages and using pejorative about them,” McLeod Howe says. “It’s the thin edge of the wedge, based on using power over someone who is actually an equal.”
She says talking to the boys in our lives about relationships and power is absolutely critical. “We need to speak with our sons in particular that when they’re in a relationship they don’t ‘own’ their girlfriends. She has power over her own life.”
It is one practical thing we can do and if you need a reason to consider it, think of two teenagers.
Two kids who ought to be enjoying their last day of school for the term. Who ought to be revelling in the joy of a term wound down, of relaxed teachers and students buoyed on by the prospect of holidays. They’re not.
Instead their bodies are in a morgue right now and there is absolutely no reason for it. They cannot be brought back. If there is anything as awful as that I don’t want to know about it.
A world in which a father kills his children is not a world we can accept. As indulgent as worrying about a child’s schooling might seem, it’s actually the world every child deserves. Their safety and mortality ought to be the absolute baseline.