A First-grader’s Account of a School Lockdown Drill

I wrote the following Facebook post last night, and it sparked a discussion that I’d like to continue here:

At dinner tonight, here are the sad, inevitable, horrifying words that spilled out of my first-grader’s mouth, four days into the school year (being a writer, I couldn’t help but discreetly take notes as he talked). I’m sharing them because I think they’re important–whether your own child says them out loud or not:

“There’s one thing about my school that makes me not want to go back. It’s this thing called a hard lockdown where in case there’s a bad guy in the school who wants to take a child or has a gun we have to go into the bathroom. And we have to be quiet for like three hours. Well, sometimes it might just be ten minutes but sometimes it might take a lot of hours. And we have to face the bathroom door and sing a quiet song so he doesn’t hear us.

“But our teacher said he’d have to get through her first. And we have like 19 kids in our classroom, and we could tackle him, too, couldn’t we? Kids can tackle adults. There are 19 of us. We could do it, right?

Photo Credit: BRETT MYERS/Youth Radio

Photo Credit: BRETT MYERS/Youth Radio

“I was so good and happy in school, in kindergarten and the first part of first grade, until they talked about the hard lockdowns. I thought that it would happen.

“But I guess it never happened in kindergarten and that was a whole year.”

When my son finished talking, I told him: “Just like they need to prepare you for tornadoes and fires, they need to prepare you for this. And just like with tornadoes and fires, it’s very unlikely it will ever happen. There are some bad people in the world, so we need to be prepared, but there are many, many more good people.”

The Facebook discussion brought up a whole host of questions: Why weren’t parents told about the drill? What is the right way to prepare children for the very rare possibility an armed nut will enter their school? How do we talk about it afterward with our children? What role do parents play in school drills? What details do children need to know? Should it even be called a “lockdown”?

Please join the conversation and let me know your thoughts in the comments below–has your child had a similar drill? What is your school’s policy regarding parent notification? What words do you use with your child when talking about it? Does your school have a discussion with children after the drill?

What I’ve Read

With my heart and mind focused on Sandy Hook, much of what I’ve read this week will come as no surprise. A couple, though, are serendipitous. Here’s some of what I’ve laid my eyes upon this week:

  • The tributes to the children murdered at Sandy Hook. I don’t seek these out, but once I find them, I commit. I do it because I’m a mother and these parents are enduring my nightmare. Because I am overwhelmingly sorry for them and I want to somehow honor their child. And because, yes, I’m grateful it isn’t me. It isn’t my child. So I try to share, somehow, in the pain. I cry for the goofy grins, the lost two front teeth, the shining blue eyes, for the artist, the singer and maybe a bit harder for the one who loved to write in her journal and make up stories.
  • Arguments in support of more guns. Even when I know what’s in my heart, I sometimes like to test it. So I listen to the other side; I try it out, see what it feels like to advocate that side. When I feel a cringe in my gut, I know my original instinct was right.
  • The Snow Child, a novel about an Alaska couple who cannot have children and make a “snow child” one night. Soon after, a child of the woods begins appearing at their cabin and their wish seems to have come true.
  • An email from my uncle, in which he writes:

    We will carry the banner to have stricter gun control laws, we will carry the banner to make it impossible for someone with mental health issues to purchase a gun.  We can even ban the sale of semi-automatic assault weapons to everyone.  Although I favor all of these items I do not believe it will solve the problem.

     We are a violent society.  We have always been a violent society.  We gained our independence through acts of aggression.  Our granddad was a young man during the WWI.  Our dad was in WWII.  Korea, Vietnam, the Middle-east.  The most popular TV sports event in this country is football. Boxing with 16-ounce padded gloves has been replaced in popularity by  basically street fighting within a confined space and a referee.  The most violent blood and guts movies continue to be the most popular.  I definitely cannot even begin to identify a solution.  I do not know how you turn an entire society around to become less violent.  I do not even know if it is something that I will witness.  I hope I do.

    After Friday I could only feel sad.  Sad for the families.  Sad for the community and sad for this country that something of that magnitude could happen within a few minutes and no one will ever know why.  Most of all I feel sad for you and all the young parents in this country who will never send your children out the door again without wondering, “What if.”

  • Even the word “statistics” is nauseating. But I hope you’ll read, as I did, the following info from the Children’s Defense Fund (I refrained from italicizing or bolding almost 100% of this paragraph; it is just stunning.): There were 173 firearm-related deaths of preschool-age children between 2008 and 2009. That number was nearly twice the 89 deaths of law-enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. Likewise, the total number of children and teenagers killed by gun violence that year exceeded the number of military personnel who died in battle in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. Of the world’s 23 wealthiest countries, the United States accounts for 80 percent of all gun-related deaths and 87 percent of all gun deaths for children under 15.
  • Statements like, “Here we go again: everyone’s ranting about gun control and then they’ll just go back to their regular lives.” And I’d like, for a moment, to speak up for those of us who are so predictable as that: Of course we’ll go back to our regular lives. That’s more than okay–it’s necessary. But while we are fired up, we should fire up. While we are sad, we should cry. While we are motivated, we should work. For however long it lasts. Because we’re not merely jumping on a bandwagon. Our hearts hurt. Twenty little angels have given politicians the courage to begin talking. Perhaps if our grief is loud enough, those in charge of our laws and funding programs will continue to listen. Maybe our own energy is strong enough, this time, to last, even as it wanes.
  • And finally, it’s been many years since I read the following poem by Tennessee Williams and I came across it again this week at My Unpublished Life, in a post unrelated to Sandy Hook:
We have not long to love
We have not long to love.
Light does not stay.
The tender things are those
we fold away.
Coarse fabrics are the ones
for common wear.
In silence I have watched you
comb your hair.
Intimate the silence,
dim and warm.
I could but did not, reach
to touch your arm.
I could, but do not, break
that which is still.
(Almost the faintest whisper
would be shrill.)
So moments pass as though
they wished to stay.
We have not long to love.
A night. A day….
Merry Christmas all, in spirit if not religion. Cherish your dimpled hands and your liver-spotted ones, your fiery warm homes and wintery cold walks. And your uniquely human sense of hope.
snow tree

No Title

I don’t expect to rise above all the chatter about the tragedy in Connecticut. I hesitate to add to it, because something about Facebook and blogs and Twitter takes away from the realness, the seriousness, the timelessness of a tragedy like this, of the loss of twenty babies I don’t know and haven’t seen but want to wrap my arms around even all these miles away. The president was right: these are our children.

And a large part of me, unlike in any other tragedy in recent memory save 9/11, feels the need to speak my piece in honor of these babies and the teachers who died trying to save them. Because otherwise, there’s silence over here. And there’s no truer story than what happened on Friday. And there’s no greater cause than children.

There’s a lot of information, misinformation, and statistics being thrown around, and who knows what the end story will be. But we know that twenty babies woke up on Friday morning, like your children did today. Twenty children got dressed for school, maybe thinking about their Christmas lists, and many parents already have those presents waiting, hidden high on a closet shelf.

You can, and should, blame the lack of mental health care in this country. You can, and should, blame the lack of gun safety among some gun owners. You can, and should, blame the absence of laws that require gun registration or laws that prohibit certain types of guns (such as those that have the word “assault” in their name). We are the most violent industrialized country in the world. The most violent. We failed those children in Connecticut.

The following excerpt from an interview Friday on CNN with former Assistant FBI Director Tom Fuentes struck me, and I’d like you to read it. Afterward, you can decide what to do:

BLITZER: You’ve been involved in law enforcement your whole life. Is there anything we can learn from this and move forward to try to make sure it doesn’t happen again? 

FUENTES: No.

BLITZER (pausing, seemingly taken aback by the blunt answer): It’s going to happen again?

FUENTES: It’s going to happen again. We don’t change anything of the basics. We don’t — we haven’t made the improvements to our mental health system to take care of people that are severely disturbed. We haven’t done anything to prevent the severely disturbed from obtaining the weapons that are so prevalent in our society. So as long as you have disturbed people able to obtain weapons and act out with those weapons —

BLITZER: Because a lot of folks, immediately as soon as they hear this, they’ll say, you know, that guns are too — assault weapons, guns, are too available, too easy to get.

FUENTES: Well, what they say — what we say now is we can’t talk about it. Everybody is in mourning. It’s too soon, it’s not appropriate. So at the time, later, when it is appropriate, we don’t care. And nothing changes.

I had a daughter at Virginia Tech down the hall from the first shooting, the first two people that were killed in that dorm, 10 rooms away. So that hit home for me very closely. What’s changed since then? Not one thing in the state of Virginia has changed. I don’t expect much will change here.