Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Lock down

Of course it happened on the day that I was too busy to kiss my kids goodbye before they left for school.  The lockdown, that is.  The one that was not a drill but the real thing, the one that had my kindergartener closed in a coat closet with his classmates and teacher.

My final physical therapy appointment for the broken elbow was scheduled for the same time school starts, so my husband was taking the kids this morning.  By the time I got myself to the door to go, the kids were already in my husband's car. As I watched them drive off, I told myself that the lack of a proper send-off with the usual hugs and kisses was okay for one day since I'd be there at the school in a few hours for volunteering.  It was just a few hours.

I'd had a terrible night's sleep with worries about a work event scheduled for tonight, so I sat through the final talk with my physical therapist in a daze (even after two cups of coffee).  I arrived to work in a horrible mood, which did not bode well for a clean-up project we were working on.  I was grouchy and irritable and frustrated with things not going my way.  I wasn't very nice.

Late morning after I'd gotten back home, I got a notice through a parent-group for my kids' school on fb that the school was in lockdown due to a suspicious package being left near the school.  A parent had posted something from the twitter feed of a local news station.  It's hard to describe how I felt in that moment.  The best summation might just be: nausea.

I immediately felt the overwhelming urge to throw up.  My head started swimming.

I decided to call a couple of parents who are typically in the know about things related to the school, but neither of them had heard anything.  One lives in walking distance of the school, so she ran right over there and told me that "the school is crawling with police."

The first time I tried calling the school, an answering service said that the school was not available to take my call.  I wasn't sure whether to jump in my car and run over there or wait by the phone.  I called right back, and one of the secretaries answered that time.  The lockdown had just been cleared.  Kids were resuming a normal day.  The police were leaving.

As of now, there are no official reports of what was in the suspicious bag.  I heard a toy or stuffed animal.  Maybe a tightly and carefully wrapped school project.  Who knows?  It doesn't matter.

Here is what does matter:

My children are surrounded by men and women who would lay down their life for them in a heartbeat.  When the word came to my son's class about the lockdown, his teacher and the student teacher calmly had them leave their work and go with them into the coat closet.  She closed the window blinds and shut the closet door.  She told me that she had never talked so much in her life.  She was keeping them calm.

After five minutes, someone told them to move to another teacher's classroom since it was further away from the suspicious package that the police were investigating.  One of the girls in the class told the teacher at the end of the day that the reason she was covering her face with her hoodie during that walk is because she was so scared.  Her teacher commended her for being so brave, saying that she hadn't even noticed her doing that.  She was so proud of the girl for following directions in spite of her fear.

They waited in the other classroom for an hour.  They kept the lights off and just hung out.  They got permission to take it easy and just lay on the floor, which my son did.  He was tired today, so I can easily see him rolling around on the floor sucking his thumb.  Kindergarteners can get away with this.

My daughter was in music when word came about the lockdown.  Her teacher had them hide behind a wall in the auditorium, and eventually they just hung out for the whole hour.  She said she wasn't at all scared because "I knew we were safe."  I love this about her.

Once I heard from the secretary that they were out of lockdown, I relaxed.  I willed myself to think about other things and talked about my  morning with my husband.  But when I got to the school less than an hour later, I found myself hugging every staff member I could.  One of the first grade teachers, my daughter's reading group teacher, was standing on the playground when I arrived.  She is so professional that she has been accused of being cold.  I asked her how she was doing and thanked her for taking care of our kids.  I then hugged her hard, telling her through a tight throat and tears that I experienced a school shooting during my student teaching so am sometimes a little raw when it comes to these things.  She softened and looked at me with surprise.  Right then my son ran up to me for a kiss.  Her expression softened even more.  I put my hand on her arm, squeezed it, and told her thank you again.

In the office, I hugged both of the secretaries.  The younger one stood for hers, and when I walked towards the stereotypically surly older one, I said, "You can't get out of this no matter how hard you try" and I hugged her in her chair.  She smiled and laughed.  As I walked out of the office I told them, "We love y'all."

Walking down the hall, I hugged the assistant principal, the one my daughter idolizes.  I thanked her too for being there.  The head principal saw me coming, said 'hi' to me by name, and we high-fived.  I told him 'great job today'.

I hugged the teacher for the kids in my son's class with special needs.  I adore her and her sense of humor and warmth.  She is there for my kids just as much as anyone.  I didn't hug the school counselor who came in for a lesson while I was there because she was very busy teaching about using nice words.

It's strange to think that my kids were in no real danger today, yet it feels like we escaped something.  I guess we did.  These experiences can shake us out of our surliness, our bad moods, our irritability, our meanness, our apathy.  This is what I escaped today. 

 I was yanked out of the illusion that I can count on having at my disposal the next few hours of my life.  I will never again let my children leave the house without a kiss from me.

If you see anyone who works with children tomorrow, hug them.

I went back to work tonight with an openness that I was lacking this morning.  I was more generous with people.  I smiled more.  I was very tired but did the hard work of preparing for a big work party with energy that was missing earlier.  As I filled shopping carts with food for the party to honor our volunteers, I felt the fatigue of sleep deprivation and a stressful day, but this weakness in my body somehow made me appreciate the task I was working on. 

The community room was quickly filled with staff and volunteers, people who mentor African refugee youth and give up their Saturday mornings to teach young refugee mothers.  Four of my own program's volunteers were there, one of whom I had the joy of honoring with a rather expensive "Volunteer of the Year" plaque for his desk.  My children came, and I was filled with pride as I watched them scoop injera and doro wot, then listen quietly during speeches and later belly laugh with two habesha college graduates who made up an imaginary friend named Steve, whom my daughter ate.

We stayed past their bedtime.  I didn't rush home, despite it being a school night. It's best not to disrupt belly laughter.

You wouldn't believe the sunset on the way home.

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