It was early afternoon, within an hour of dismissal. They were in social studies, reviewing explorers….Christopher Columbus, Cabeza de Vaca, Francisco Coronado, Sieur de La Salle and Hernando Cortes’. Just an ordinary every day kind of day. Then the principal’s serious voice comes across the intercom with the words Official and Lockdown. He may have kept talking. He probably did. But everything blurred, kids scrambling into action, rushing to the back of the classroom and under tables while the teacher hurried to close and lock the door. A little girl huddled there, under a table, afraid to move, afraid to look. Images of Newtown flashed through her mind. She could see the parents who were interviewed that cold winter morning, and she tried not to cry. Shaking while she tried not to move, she thought she heard thuds and screaming, and she started to plan, and pray. She planned what she would do if the door was kicked open and the gunman came in, how she would go limp so maybe he wouldn’t notice her. And she prayed her parents wouldn’t have to be interviewed. She prayed she’d see her family again. Her dog. That her friends would be okay. Her teacher. She prayed and prayed, and then came the knock at the door, the assistant principal informing them that the drill was over.
My daughter never heard that word, that key critical word, the one that would have made her not fear for her life, not until it was all over. She thought it was real. For her, for those five minutes when she crouched under a table in the back of her classroom, it was real. And when I saw her half an hour later, she vaulted into my arms, breathlessly telling me how scared she’d been, that she’d thought she was going to die. And my heart just kinda broke. It broke for her, that she’d experienced that terror. And it broke for her friends, who were gathered around her, around us, saying that they’d thought the same thing, that there was a shooter in their school, like Newtown, and that they were all in danger. That they might die. That their friends might die. It broke for the world we live in, that this is these children’s reality. They know that sometimes people go to work, and bad things happen. That sometimes people go to the movies, and bad things happen. And sometimes, sometimes kids, elementary school kids even, go to school, and never get to go home.
When I was a kid, we had drills, too. We drilled for fire and tornadoes and even a nuclear bomb. For fire we’d leave the building. For tornadoes and the bomb we’d huddle under our desks, as if that would make a difference. But none of us were really scared, not in that Oh-My-God, is this the end kind of way.
But now, today, bad things happen, really bad things, and our kids know it. They’re not immune to it. Little girls and boys walk to their friend’s house a few blocks away, and never get there. How do you explain that?
Innocence. It’s one of the most beautiful aspects of childhood. The hallmark. Childhood is that one time of life when you are surrounded by those who wish nothing more than to take care of you. Childhood is that one time in your life when you shouldn’t really have to worry, be scared. But I can’t help but think, in so many ways, that kind of pure, unencumbered innocence is now no more than a pipe dream. A fantasy. A fairytale of some heralded time in the distant past. But not real anymore. Not reality. Not with what our kids are exposed to far too early. Now they fear walking to their friend’s house, to the movies…to school.
This is their reality. This is the world in which our children live. And it makes me so, so sad.
I sit here tonight, thinking. Wondering. What does this do to them? Our children. What does this kind of fear and horror do to them? What does it do to their young hearts and their young souls? How does it scar them…shape them?
From the day I became a mother, my goal has been to protect my kids, shield them. But I can’t protect them from this, the stressed out, enraged world in which they live. In which we all live. I can’t make it go away, and I can’t keep them in some kind of timeless, suspended bubble. Would that I could. So instead I find myself sitting here thinking, what can I do? What can I do to help them live in this world?
For me, what I think it comes down to is love. I can love my kids, wrap them in it like a soft, warm, strong blanket, create a safe place for them, a haven, where no matter how dark and scary the world is, they always know where to find sanctuary. All the while, inside I quietly mourn for that fantasy of another world, the fading, forgotten world, where children didn’t worry that someday, they might go to school, but never go home again.