We had a particularly bad Friday morning here. A book bag was dropped, lunch was forgot, and by the time we reached the school all three of us were at each other’s throats full of bickering and blame for how the morning had spun so out of control.
Taking a deep breath, I wished them a good day and vowed that Monday would be different.
In a few short hours the news of the Newtown Connecticut Elementary School massacre would break and a nation — a planet — would sit in stunned realization that too many families will not have a do-over on Monday. The faces haunt us.
As we learn more about these precious little ones, we feel as if we know these children personally.
“I like animals.”
“I love my little sisters.”
“I can’t wait for Christmas.“
They are the hopes and dreams of the children we know. The children we were. Underlying it all is the dream of every child — and parent: “When I grow up…”
All the experts are talking endlessly about how to tell your “little ones.”
Well let me tell you that mine were bright kids and it was a lot easier to ease their fears at 5 and 7 than it is at 13 and 15. Friday afternoon our 13-year-old daughter asked, repeatedly, “but how did he get IN?”
This child, born at the time of Columbine, does not remember a school without security doors and buzzers. She understands instinctively that students are to crouch in the corner out of sight of the door. That if you are in the bathroom, you are to hop up on the toilet and lock the stall. That if you are in the hallway, you might be sacrificed for the greater good.
At 7: “Don’t worry mom, I’m little, and I can fit under the stairs.”
She knows the need to be very quiet and that the gunman might try and trick you. That there might also be bombs. She thought that all the things that are normal to her would keep children safe at school. She now knows that we were wrong.
All the security measures in place will only slow — not stop — someone bent on hurting them.
We have trained our school children for combat. We didn’t grow up this way.
At 13 my school drills prepared us for tornados. If I thought much of it at all, crouched in the hallway with my hands covering my head, thinking ironically of the beautiful glass walls that were a feature of our school, I thought of emerging bravely from the hypothetical wreckage.
We know all too readily now that there are things more evil and horrific than natural disaster.
I wonder if my alma mater has replaced all that glass with something more bulletproof yet?
We learn of the heroic efforts of the adults in this tragedy. There is the principal who ran toward danger — and certain death — while telling others to hide. The teacher that shielded her students with her own body, the custodian who ran through the hallways shouting a warning rather than taking cover himself.
We learn of teachers who reached into the hallway to pull children to safety. We laud their heroism, but are we really surprised?
I have a sister, numerous cousins and many friends who are in education. I don’t think it diminishes the heroism of Sandy Hook to think that it is what any of them would do.
One teacher opined that she plans to clear out some bookshelves on Monday morning, having realized that she could shelter her small students in the lower shelves if necessary and it’s best to keep it empty.
Another responded that her students are teenagers and she fears for them because they are bigger and harder to hide.
Also, that so many of them have younger siblings in the nearby buildings that she fears that even the best behaved child will refuse to listen to her. It is hard for her to fathom her teenage students staying crouched safely in the corner knowing their younger siblings may be under attack.
She said, with dark humor, that her injuries will likely come when those nearly full grown “kids” throw her out of the way as they leave her locked room.
It is heart breaking that we live in a world where teachers — and students — have to think of these things. While the horror was unfolding in Connecticut, I am blessed beyond words to say that my children were safe at school.
My 13-year-old was visiting her former kindergarten classroom to read to the children.
Hearing this, I mentioned how she used to love her kindergarten teacher. Smiling she said “I still do.”
For all the educators, teachers, and staff who put themselves out there every day to educate our kids under increasingly unsure circumstances, I’ve got to say that I do too. God bless you, every one.