What to expect when you’re expecting? The unexpected.
We arrived at school this morning, late (as usual) because we were busy at home, living our morning lives that don’t reasonably correspond with the non-morning-person schedule most schools observe. I’ve recently come to terms with the fact that we’ll never be morning people and that, as a result, we’ll most always be late for school.
It’s only taken me three years of preschool and four years of elementary school to accept this as a fact of our lives. But I’m learning to accept a lot of things these days and to find ways to navigate what is rather than pound my square peg self through tiny round holes, efforting, always efforting, to make everything look the way I want it to look.
When we arrived, we were greeted by one of our school administrators and were told we needed to wait until the drill was over.
“What drill?” my daughter, my baby, my only child asked.
I remembered in that instant the email I had received the day before from school, advising parents of the upcoming “Lockdown Drill.”
Just the name of it sounded frightening, and that’s after the school struggled with what to call it. “Lockdown” was the seemingly least hostile branding they could come up with, and they’re Quakers, so I believe they honestly tried. We were advised that students would be “gently, mindfully and age appropriately informed about the procedure” they would follow, with the assurance that no sense of fear would be instilled in the school community, “only a sense of safety and preparedness.”
I remember reading the email and thinking, “Wow. It’s really come to this in our world.”
In that single moment, I tried to muffle the images in my head of those slightly futuristic, yet totally apocalyptic movies that I refuse to watch anymore because they hit too close to home—their possibilities too real, too close to this moment in time. These are the ones that portend cataclysmic spreads of disease or warfare that render most of the Earth’s population helpless and in perpetual danger, while a sparse few retain the key to survival and withhold it from the rest of the world because it gives them power.
In that single moment, I tried to muffle the memory of the emotions that welled up within me from years before my daughter was born, when I watched on television as the World Trade Center was razed by humans who transformed passenger airplanes into airborne torpedoes, when I considered whether it would be the height of hubristic irresponsibility to bring a child into a world like this, so full of hatred and danger. In that single moment, shards of images of automatic-arsenal-toting, elementary school shooters and backpack bombers, of angry and hate-filled people, splintered in my psyche.
And in an instant, I moved on, as we all do, when another email delivery pings or the cell phone rings or someone calls our name from the other room. And I forgot about the drill. And the horror-filled brain smoke blew away. And I went about the rest of my day.
So when we arrived late to school this morning and saw administrators outside, I remembered. I remembered the thing I had wanted to forget. But there it was, and here we were, and we were all in it together.
As we got out of the car—backpack all strewn, dogs pressing wet noses against the back windows, jacket halfway pulled up over eight-year-old arms—we were asked to wait outside until the drill was over. “What drill?” she asked. And the earth opened up again, threatening to eat me alive.
There is no preparation for the kinds of questions we can’t answer.
“Well,” the administrator’s explanation started, “you know how we have fire drills? Well this is a different kind of drill. Can you hear how the alarm is a different sound? This is called a ‘Lockdown Drill.’”
“What’s a ‘Lockdown’?” I started slipping into the abyss.
“Well,” she continued, “you know how when there is a fire drill, we have everyone leave the building because the building isn’t safe? A ‘Lockdown’ is where we have everyone lock doors and stay inside rooms because that’s the safest place to be.”
“But why?” my daughter asked. Knives in my gut. The administrator and I exchanged a potent look, trying to brace each other as we attempted to do for this child that which we were still unable to do for ourselves.
“Well, and this is highly unlikely, if someone were to come into the school who wasn’t supposed to be there, who might make the school unsafe…”
“…like in a prison break or something?” (Note to self: too much television.)
“…Or, say, if something dangerous spilled and needed to be cleaned up before it was safe to go out into the hallways…,” our administrator persevered, bless her heart.
“Then you would, as you always do, listen to your teachers and follow their instructions and do what they needed you to do to make sure you were all safe,” I blurted, as distant from the reality of my own words as the space that separates my tiny human body from the mass of fire that comprises the sun.
And then the alarm silenced, and the normalcy returned, and the front door opened, and we went inside. And my baby hugged me goodbye and reminded me to not be late picking her up from school as she ran up the stairs to her classroom, unbrushed hair flying every which way, and the door closed behind her.
And there I stood. Holding it all together.
Tightly, so as not to let a single molecule of that fear shake loose. Holding it all together, as we parents do, willing ourselves to magnetically attract the shrapnel of fear and danger, to protect our children from the unnecessary introduction to a world that harbors such grave unwelcome. Holding it all together with the singular hope that we can be human shields for just as long as it takes for the world to become a safer place for our children. Holding it all together as we hold out hope for a better tomorrow.
Sarah Rosenberg runs with scissors, eats with her fingers, and encourages her dogs to kiss her on the mouth. She lives and breathes as the grateful shepherd of her nearly-nine-year-old daughter, whose old soul belies her young bodily incarnation. Sarah’s writing creates fissures in her seemingly hard surface, allowing slivers of brilliant light to shine out from within. She is a sheep in wolf’s clothing.
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Ed: Brianna Bemel