Engaging Each Day with Action Words

Lock. — This Is A Drill. It Is Only A Drill.

on September 29, 2013

lockdown drill

I remember Columbine.

Ironically, on April 20, 1999, I was teaching 2nd grade and had taken a half day of personal leave to go over to Virginia Tech to interview at a job fair. My soon-to-be husband and I were getting ready to move to Charlotte, NC and it just so happened that the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school division was there, looking for teachers.

I arrived on campus to see huddles of people looking at T.V. monitors. Everywhere I turned, huddles of people, staring, hands covering mouths wide open. They would watch for a few minutes, shake their heads and then walk away … heading to their next class or to catch the bus.

(Ironically, just 8 years later, almost to the day, eerily similar scenes would unfold just a few hundred yards from where we stood that day. This is not lost on me.)

I stopped and tried to take in what I was seeing. All I remember now is the footage of kids coming out of the building, running in lines, with their hands in the air or behind their heads. Trying to follow the directions of the many heavily-armed police men and women, no doubt in varying degrees of trauma for what they just saw and heard.

I know that I didn’t come close to grasping  the full tragedy of it all as I walked from T.V. to T.V. on my way to an interview.

An interview where I would volunteer to put myself in harm’s way, put myself in front of my 7 year old students if ever, in the craziest of craziest worlds, a gunman were to come in to my quaint little school.  Oh, that … and I would also teach them to read and write and add and subtract and investigate and inquire and listen and be a decent human being to others.

I was offered the job on the spot.

And then I went home and watched the news.

And like the rest of the nation, the rest of the universe, I was horrified by the stories. The first person accounts. The eyewitness’ tales.

That night, and many nights afterwards, I had nightmares. Vivid, sweating, calling out in my sleep nightmares.

Of frantically trying to hide my baby students, other Mother’s babies,  under desks, in the library, under computer tables, behind chairs. Anywhere to keep them safe.

That summer we moved to Charlotte and I was teaching 2nd grade again. One day, the local police department decided that it would be a good idea if we all started getting prepared for these sort of terrorist-like actions on elementary schools. In retrospect, he was probably right. But I will never forget the day that they pulled a full lock down drill.

During lunch.

Without telling the teachers anything.

I was sitting with my students, reminding them over and over … and … over to eat their lunch more and talk and socialize a little less, when I heard the announcement for the full lock down. I was surprised and shocked and all of a sudden very afraid. As nice as this little school was, I knew that there could be some that might be frustrated with others. Some that might ‘act out’. Some that had the ability to create violence.

I quickly scooped up my kiddos and led them into the nearby art room. I squished them into the corner and then counted again and again and again, making sure that I had everyone. I remember pulling the blinds, turning off the lights, trying to make them smaller, while trying to make myself bigger. Shushing and reassuring and listening…for anything. Everything.

And after what seemed like hours, but was probably just minutes, ‘they’ came over the PA system and announced that this was a drill. It was only a drill.

I don’t care what they said. My heart couldn’t tell the difference.

Complacency had turned to fear in an instant. Fear had turned to terror.

And now, I was just angry.

I led my students back to the cafeteria, trying not to let them see what I was feeling and thinking at the time.  We arrived at our table and suddenly all of the trays of half-eaten food looked the same. They couldn’t tell which tray was theirs and neither could I. I very clearly remember telling them, “Pick a tray. Sit down. Eat.”

But none of us had much of an appetite.

Fast forward a few years and I can tell a story about the shootings at Virginia Tech. Where I was. What I heard. How I still feel on campus today as I teach a class there one night a week.

And a few years later, a story about Sandy Hook Elementary.

And then later at a local community college.

And there are so many stories in between, that now our school system and local law enforcement are on first name basis, not out of an emergency relationship, but just by being proactive.

For the first time last week, my X and Y were going to be in school, when our brave local police and emergency response teams were going to do a full school division lockdown drill.

As a school employee, I knew this was going to happen. As a parent, I was told with a memo that this was going to happen. I know my colleagues in the classrooms knew this was going to happen. We all knew the day. Only they knew the time.

The teacher in me flashed back to that day many years before and my heart ached for my friends who would now have to huddle their kiddos in corners and in cubbies, in closets and even in bathrooms.

But the parent in me…Oh, my heart was broken for what MY kids, my babies, my beautiful X and Y, those innocent souls, would have to do that day.

I knew that my X would be in his Kindergarten classroom with the same awesome Kindergarten teacher that his sister had three years before him. I knew that he would be herded into a corner, behind her desk, where he would dutifully sit, perfectly quiet and still for 15 minutes.  I knew, in her way, she would make it all okay.

And I figured out, by piecing little clues together, that my beautiful and super-sensitive and intuitive Y, would be at lunch when they called this lock down drill. I wasn’t sure what their plan of action would be, but I shared my story with her the night before and I told her the kinda-funny part about the lunch trays. And we talked about how safe she was and if she just listened to her teacher and followed her directions, she would be fine.

I was so anxious on the day of the lock down drill. I kept thinking of my X and Y and hoping that they weren’t too scared. Knowing that they were with amazing teachers who work so hard to make themselves bigger when they have to.  I was never worried about their safety and I’m still not. I just hated the whole idea that they have to practice this.

Like a fire drill.

They have to get up and turn out the lights and huddle in corners and be quiet. Just in case. Just in case, a lunatic with a gun decides to open fire on six year olds and their teachers.

It is a crazy, crazy world we live in. A crazy world where my kids have to prepare for something that I can’t fully bring myself to discuss with them.

As it turns out, X didn’t blink an eye and I had to really pry to get any details out of him. That tells me that 1) he’s a boy and 2) his teacher made it so easy and non-chalant for him, that he didn’t pay much attention to it.

Which makes me 3) even more in love with his awesome Kindergarten teacher.

My Y.

My Y was at lunch with her friends. She says she figured it was going to happen at lunch, too, because her teacher spent some time talking about what they should do … just in case. See….what did I say about intuitive? Like mother, like daughter, a little walking, talking mirror, that one.

She and her classmates did have to leave their lunchboxes and trays and head into the serving lines where they were locked in and had to sit in the floor without talking for 15 minutes.  She has just enough of her Daddy in her, that she didn’t like where she was because there was some water on the floor, so she moved and she can’t be quiet for more than 5 minutes so she actually got in trouble for the first time of her 4 year academic career and lost five minutes of her recess for talking to her friend. (Which, by the way, I’m fine with because the teacher had to do that to make the point about following directions, so I have no problem with this at all…I’m a teacher fan, does it show?)

This… she didn’t tell me until the very last minute as I was tucking her in for bed, worried that I would be disappointed with her.

I smiled. I kissed her repeatedly. And told her that 15 minutes was a long time to be quiet and if she was talking to her friends in order to keep a sense of normalcy during an incredibly absurd activity, then I could not be more proud of her.

For not being afraid. For not settling for sitting in fear in silence (in water) on the floor of a serving line.

For being an 8-year-old kid.

I am proud of them both. For being normal kids in such an abnormal time.

I hate everything about these lock down drills.

While being a little thankful for them at the same time.

A crazy world, indeed.

Full of amazing and awesome young people… (guided by amazing and awesome educators, putting up with an amazing amount of pressure and crap) ... who will grow up to make it a better world.


4 responses to “Lock. — This Is A Drill. It Is Only A Drill.

  1. Lead Our Lives says:

    There is so much fear in our society today. As I read this post, I was reflecting on just how much love there really is and how you share that with your children, even as they are exposed to the harsh realities of our world in this moment. The greatest gift we give them is love. You are doing an amazing job of keeping your heart open so that they keep theirs open as well. They are lucky to have their mommyverbs. ❤

  2. Sandi H. says:

    I’m always amazed that I really don’t hear more about the drills from my guy. They do them the first time everyone has PE…that’s what they spend their first days practicing — learning the code colors, what they mean, and what they are supposed to do. I’ve never really discussed in detail what has happened because I cannot bring myself to do it. He’s never asked why they do it, and I’m very cautious about his exposure to news reports. When Sandy Hook happened, I was afraid not to tell him something in very limited terms because I was sure someone was going to lift it as a prayer request during church that week…fortunately there was no open call for requests that Sunday. His class made paper snowflakes to send to the children of Sandy Hook, and I don’t think they really told the kids what happened, but I hate that we live in a world where we have that fear. I hate that someone can be so deranged that they think shooting children is the answer. Apparently they had a discussion in his music class (which is in a trailer) about what they would do if a bad person came in, and their music teacher told them they would go into a different room and that the bad person would have to get through HER first.. Educators just have so much more of a job than anyone ever gives you credit for these days!!!

  3. When my kids were in high school there were a number of lock downs for various reasons. This was one of the times I was so happy my kids had cell phones so they could tell me they were okay. One time, my son, said he was hiding in a closed with other kids because the room they were in did not have a door that locked. He wasn’t the least bit scared, I on the other hand was terrified. Thankfully there was never anything bad that happened.

  4. 43fitness says:

    Such a well-written and heart-felt post! So sorry you’ve had to go through so much in your academic career. I remember being the ‘front person’ at the entrance of our school on the first day after Sandy Hook. It was terrifying. I tried to make myself bigger that morning, as you say, stationed by those glass doors ready to take on whatever was coming…for the kids for the parents and for our beloved teachers and staff. It is indeed a crazy world we live in, and your story only deepens my love and respect for educators everywhere.

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