Each day, I watch my daughter climb the steps of the big yellow school bus on her way to class. As it speeds off with her inside, it pulls the breath from my chest along with it. As much as I hate to admit it, the violent world we live in forces a small part of me to wonder if she will return. But as soon as that thought enters my mind, I push it back out. If I allowed those thoughts to dwell, I would drive myself crazy considering the horrible possibilities. But now my daughter is old enough to understand that, too. She sees more than cotton candy and plastic ponies. She sees the danger.
“Okay, guys. Everyone sit quietly and wait for the drill to be over.”
I overheard my daughter talking in her playroom, so I went in to check on her. She had some of her dolls lined up in a sitting position, shoulder to shoulder. “What are you doing, Hun?” I asked her, taking a spot on the floor next to her. I folded my legs underneath me to reach her level.
“We’re having a lockdown drill,” she said, nonchalantly shrugging her small shoulders. The hair on my arms raised. I couldn’t believe my six-year-old had to experience that kind of thing.
“What’s a lockdown drill?” I asked, pushing a rogue hair away from her face. I needed to know more, to know if these drills were affecting her.
“We have them in school,” she replied. “We sit really quiet by the backpacks and a police officer pretends to be a villain by rattling the door handle.” Tears clouded my vision, but I didn’t dare let one fall to my cheeks.
“How many lockdown drills have you had?” I asked. I pulled her into my lap. My parenting instincts kicked in and I had a visceral desire to protect her. I’m a mama bear protecting my cub.
“So far, two times,” she shrugged again.
I remember fire drills from school. We’d line up and quietly walk outside in a single-file line away from the building. A fireman would be at his truck timing our exit to safety. I’m also familiar with tornado drills. I’m from the Midwest, so tornados were pretty common. We’d sit crisscross applesauce in the hallway, lined up knee-to-knee, with our heads tucked securely in our laps. We’d cover our neck with our hands for protection. Although it was painful sitting like that for what seemed like forever, we looked forward to it as a welcomed break from classwork. I can’t imagine feeling the same about a lockdown drill. Angry people with guns are a different kind of threat than a natural disaster. There are too many unknown variables.
“Does that scare you?” I asked her.
“Not as much as Star Wars,” she looked away from me, distracted by her dolls.
I could feel the vein in my neck begin to expand and contract. My young, sweet daughter understands that there are predators out there that we have to prepare for. I don’t know if I’m ready to hand over the keys for her to drive herself to safety yet. I’m not ready for her to grow up. I know I can’t shelter her under the protection of our roof forever, but first grade seems too soon for the veil to be lifted. I want her to think of unicorns and Santa Clause instead of bad guys and bullets.
I once asked my friend, Nina Parrish, a well-respected teacher, mother, and business owner in Fredericksburg her opinion on lockdowns. She told me, “Unfortunately, the reality is that we have violence in our schools. There have been active shooters in elementary schools, and the schools would be irresponsible if they did not prepare. Lockdown drills ensure that students and teachers know what to do if the worst case scenario does arise.” But that doesn’t make it any less scary for anyone involved; children, school staff, parents, police officers – everyone is affected by these drills. But what’s worse? Not being prepared? Still, my fists clench and bile rises from my belly when I imagine what it’s like to be in her classroom during a lockdown drill. Seeing the children piled into the corner, being told to be quiet while the person with a gun threatens their lives.
At the end of each day, when she climbs back down those big bus steps smiling and waving, I exhale with relief. Another day of school has passed and everything is fine. I know my daughter is home, safe.
My heart strings have tightened because I know the older she gets, the less I can protect her from every scrape, heartbreak, bully, and villain. And I know the older she gets, the more I have to trust her to follow her own instincts. The more I have to entrust in the world to keep her safe. The more I have to let go.
Until then, I will continue protecting her one mama bear moment at a time.
Photo courtesy of Lisa Davies on Unsplash