I wrote this piece in 2017, when Etta was in kindergarten. Sadly, it’s still relevant today.
I experienced my first lockdown at the kids’ school this afternoon. The end of the day bell had just rung. Kids were spilling out of the classroom doors. Etta was the first out of her classroom; she saw me waiting for her on the grass outside and came running pell-mell to give me a hug, a big grin on her face. I was just about to ask how her day was when the announcement came loudly over the intercom, calm but insistent:
Attention students, attention students. We are in a lockdown situation. All children and parents please go inside the classrooms immediately. Attention: this is a lockdown situation. Adults, please help get all children inside.
I froze in disbelief. All around me kids were hustling back into the building. I’m not sure what happened next. I think Etta took my hand and we went inside together. Parents were ushering other children inside. I looked around me. Most kids looked slightly concerned, but no outright panic. Nobody’s face mirrored the dead, frozen feeling in the pit of my stomach.
Etta’s teacher was the epitome of calm and control. In a steady, quiet voice she suggested that the parents join the kids who had already gathered on the floor in the middle of the room. “They know what to do, we’ve practiced this,” she told us reassuringly as she walked quickly from window to window, closing all the blinds.
She turned out the lights and reminded us to be quiet. An eerie silence descended on the room, broken by the faintest whisper of an adult softly reading out loud, in a barely audible voice, to a group of kids circled around her. Etta was in that group. She seemed unconcerned, listening to the story as she played with a marble in her pocket.
One little girl sidled up next to me. As she leaned against my shoulder she whispered “I’m scared. Will you read me a book?” She dropped a Dr Seuss book in my lap. By the dim light coming through the slight cracks in the window blinds, I whispered Dr Seuss rhymes to her, as quietly as I could. “But if I ran the zoo, said young Gerald McGrew, I’d make a few changes, that’s just what I’d do.” The little girl pressed against me, staring at the pictures, focusing on my whisper as I tried to reassure both of us.
Five minutes passed. Then ten. The intercom came back on. “Attention everyone, this is your principal. We are changing the situation from a lockdown to a lockout. Again, this is now a lockout situation. This means we can turn on the lights and move about the room. But please remain inside and keep the doors locked.”
The children all giggled with relief and started chatting, standing up to grab toys and coloring books as the lights came back on. The little girl I’d been reading to quietly moved to another part of the room. I got up slowly, feeling shaky and still stunned. What was going on?
The intercom again, informing us we were still on lockout, but we were safe, the school was safe, the “situation” was somewhere out in the community. The principal repeated that the school was safe.
Five more minutes, and the lockdown/lockout ended. I stood aside as the stream of kids rushed outdoors, the parents following more slowly. I stood by the doorway next to Etta’s teacher as Etta rustled for a toy in her backpack. I must have looked how I felt, because her teacher quietly leaned toward me and said, “I know, it’s scary,” She gave my shoulder a reassuring squeeze.
“Were you scared?” I asked Etta as we walked towards the car. “No,” she said, but she held tightly to my hand. A parent with an older girl, maybe 5th grade, passed us. The girl told her mom, “I was really scared. And Alicia was so scared she was crying and praying.”
By 5th grade you understand more about the world and what a lockdown means. And if the 5th grade girl had listened to the news this morning, she would have known about the two shootings that made national news in our country today. Those were just the shootings that made the news. I’m sure there were more. There are always more.
Our neighbor passed us. “Yeah, there was shooting in town, that’s what all this was about,” he said loudly, shaking his head in disgust. “Just up the street at 195th. At least that’s what I heard.” I tried to catch his eye, tried to get him to stop. Not in front of my six-year old, please, I silently begged him. Oblivious, he continued on about the local shooting, and various other shootings. Afterwards, Etta was uncharacteristically silent, asking no questions, and staying close to me.
At Trader Joe’s, I said yes to her every request. You liked the sample of key lime pie? Sure, let’s get one for dessert tonight, sounds good. You want ten packages of applesauce squeezies, two of every flavor? Okay, put them in the cart. Get more if you want. Yes, more peanut butter and cheese crackers. Sure, you can eat some of everything on the way home.
I’m still shaky.
I’m grateful to our amazing teachers who are asked to do way too much. I want to give Etta’s teacher a gold star, a ribbon, a medal of honor, something. I know it’s not enough. How do you say thank you for something like that?