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Chapter 14: My Son's First Lockdown Drill

On August 4, 2019, I sent my only baby to preschool. That morning, I woke him up, I picked out his clothes, I packed his lunch, and I loaded him in the car to take him to a place I’d never left him before.


A school. A real school. With teachers and classmates and curriculum. That morning, I gifted him a little bracelet with a silver star charm with an orange cord—I’d bought these for both of us to wear that day, explaining to him that when I looked at mine, I would think of him, and that if he missed me, he could look at his and think of me, too. As this morning fell only two days after my son’s fourth birthday, it was not without intense emotion that I sent him off, backpack almost as big as he was, lunchbox in hand, to conquer the wide world of preschool.


My son has been in the care of another adult since he was eight weeks old—an adult by whom we were so blessed. She took care of my baby as if he was her own. She was me when I couldn’t be me so many times—the gratitude we have for Andrew’s first daycare provider is unmatched. But there was something so grown up about this idea of preschool, and a class, and a teacher that had the mom in me reeling. It took way longer for me to adjust to preschool than it did Andrew.


Within a week of his starting school, we were juggling show and tell schedules, snack calendars, lunch boxes, supply lists, enough art projects to wallpaper the entire house, newsletters, new friends, and—intruder drills.


Intruder drills?


Yes. Those. The ones where your kids hide and pretend they’re playing a game to be as quiet as they can. The ones where they’re really practicing making themselves as small as they possibly can in case a lunatic with a gun barges into a preschool and tries to hurt innocent babies.


Cue the urge to vomit.

You know the one.


You especially know it if you’re someone’s mother.


It’s even worse if you’re also a teacher.


Ever since I found out that my son’s school has procedures in place for an event like this, I’ve been simultaneously thankful and disgusted. That this is the world we live in really bothers me. That this is the world I will help my son navigate scares me. That this is what he will someday ask me about, with fear—and maybe even with tears—in his eyes, literally eviscerates me. Schools are supposed to be safe havens—places where children can go to learn and to grow and to flourish—not to hide from some mentally ill sociopath with a gun who is bent on destruction and inflicting pain onto others.


That thought makes me physically ill.


And it’s only intensified as Andrew has gotten closer to going to Kindergarten.


When he does start Kindergarten, in the fall of 2021, he will be exactly one mile away from the school in which I currently work. And I will hate that. One mile seems so close—but it’s so far away if he’s in danger and I can’t get to him.


He will know what to do because he will have practiced hiding. He will know what to do because his teacher will take care of him. He will know what to do because he’s a smart boy and a good listener. But there’s nothing he can do if a crazed gunman opens fire inside his school or his classroom if procedures aren’t implemented properly or if teachers aren’t willing to do whatever it takes to protect him.


And you know what?


Something about that really bothers me. Because someday, as a teacher, the shoe could be on the other foot.


What if it’s my building? What if it’s my classroom? What if it’s my students?


More vomit.


Because here’s the absolute truth: I do NOT know how to manage being a mom and a teacher in a situation like that. I do not know how to step in between a gunman and my students, knowing that I could be the one who dies that day—and then it’s my son who grows up without his mom. I really just do not know.


Being a mom changes everything about who a woman is—the mom part of me didn’t exist before my son was born, so in a way, I, too, was born on August 2, 2015, when he entered the world. I am lucky in this life to get to experience motherhood in a way that many women don’t: not only am I mommy to Andrew, but I have the most incredible, beautiful bonus son, Jack, who entered my life in 2011—he prepared my heart to be Andrew’s mom, and there isn’t a day of my life or Jack’s that I won’t be grateful for what he taught me about being a mom before I was one.


But since August 2, 2015, nothing has been the same, and I would trade absolutely none of it. It’s interesting to live in this dichotomy of absolutely loving my job and absolutely loving my sons, and also knowing that someday I may have to choose who to protect and how to protect them. There are days when I look at Andrew—or Jack—and my heart absolutely breaks at the thought of the state of our world—how could this be the place where they will grow up? How do I tell them that someone might want to hurt them someday, and yet still reassure them that I will do everything I can to protect them?


And then there are days that I am so ANGRY that I even have to think about choosing between someone else’s child and my own. First year teacher Lindsey would never have thought twice. She would have thrown herself in front of a bullet for her students; she would have hidden them from any and all violence and danger that might have presented itself. She would have died for them.

Mother-of-two Lindsey? Not so much.


This version of me knows that it is my job to protect my students, but this version of me also knows that my children—Andrew especially, and only because Jack has a great mom—deserve their mom. They deserve to grow up in a family that is in-tact, and part of my job as a parent is to ensure to the best of my ability that this happens for them. Can I control my own destiny? Absolutely not. But the anger I feel and the bile that rises in my throat when I consider a world in which I don’t watch my babies grow up is something that intensifies with every news report of a school shooting. It’s something that grows every time we have a lockdown drill at school or every time I hear that the preschool has practiced theirs yet again, always without letting on to these innocent babies that they are not simply playing hide-and-seek.


And I bet I’m not the only teacher mom who has felt this exact emotion at one time or another.

So, what do I do? How do I continue to function in this role as teacher and mom and not lose my mind or worry myself to death?


I don’t have the answer for that question.


***


When my son is in Kindergarten, I’ll be a mile away from him, and if a lunatic with a gun enters his school, there will be nothing I can do to stop that. In that way, I’m no different than every mom in the United States who is at work or who is at home, trusting a school to keep her kids safe. I’m no different than any other teacher who has children in the school system where she works, again trusting that school to do its job and to return her babies to her at the end of the day in the exact same condition in which the school received them that morning.


We are all the same in that way.


I just sometimes wish the weight of that responsibility wasn’t so significant.


I just sometimes wish it was within the fibers of who I am to be able to say that I won’t take drastic heroic measures to help other people’s kids if it means not being able to go home to my own kids.


But here’s the truth: I know that I will. I can talk a big game and say that my own kids will win—and to the best of my ability, I will make sure that’s true. But you know what? Those thirty faces I’ll be standing in front of, those thirty students who will be looking at me for what to do next? They’re someone’s babies, too. And it’s not within my fibers to not make sure, to the best of my ability, that those babies are also returned to their mothers in the same conditions in which they were entrusted to me that morning.


I just sometimes wish the weight of that responsibility wasn’t so significant.


But it sort of answers all of our questions, doesn’t it?


It’s the fibers we’ve woven through this book.


It’s the idea that I am a schoolteacher, and that I am someone’s mother, and that I have promised to protect so many children. I have promised to care for the ones who live in my home, and the ones who don’t. I have promised to lock doors, shush teenagers, and teach them how to be as small and as quiet as they can be—just like those preschool teachers who are teaching my son to play hide-and-seek.


So aren’t we all in this together? Aren’t we all doing the exact same thing day in and day out?


Aren’t we all just showing up for these people, hoping, praying, and expecting, that someone is going to show up for us and our kids should they be placed in a situation like that?


You see, this obligation is a circular one, and it encompasses us all.


I just sometimes wish the weight of that responsibility wasn’t so significant.


***


I don’t think that, until I was Andrew’s mother, this thought played much of a role in how I coped with what didn’t happen with Kevin at school that April day in 2007. Like I said before, it never even occurred to me that maybe I should stay home from school that day—but trust me, it occurs to me now. It occurs to me all of the time. And you better believe that, should I ever find myself in a situation like that again, I won’t step foot in a school building until that threat is vanquished. But there’s something else you have to remember: we didn’t know any better.


None of us did—no one knew how to handle a threat like the one we thought Kevin was making that day. It wasn’t a bridge we had crossed before, and thankfully not one we have crossed since. I’m so grateful for what the administration at my school did to protect us that day—because they did everything they knew to do and were capable of doing. They took the actions they took because it’s what they deemed necessary at the time, with the knowledge and training and information that they had. And I’m so grateful they took this potential threat seriously.


Can you imagine what would have happened if they hadn’t? Can you imagine the potential for danger and tragedy on a day like that? I don’t even want to think about it, and so, I don’t. For the most part.


Or, I didn’t. Until I was Andrew’s mommy.


Until I was his mom, I didn’t think about what it meant to protect other people’s children not knowing if I will get home to my own.


And that, I think, is the essence of where I’m coming from.


In this vow to protect our students, are we not all risking our own lives and our own families? Are teachers not again committing to show up for everyone else before they show up for themselves? Aren’t these educators again demonstrating their selfless natures, their dedication to the youth of this nation, and their absolute commitment to safety at all costs? Regardless of the credibility of the threat, or the level of potential violence of the threat?


And yet.


Who is helping these professionals process what they have vowed to do? Who is supporting these teachers’ mental health, their spiritual growth, and their overall OK-ness as they make these commitments and sacrifices day in and day out?


***


Someday, both of my sons will read my book, and they will have questions for me. Kevin’s story will disturb and scare them, as it disturbed and scared me all those years ago. Someday, my boys will process the idea that there was a day in the timeline of my life that nearly caused our family to never exist.


They will ask their questions.


And do you know what I will say to them?


I will tell them that in their lives, they will face hard things. That hard things are a part of life, and that our job is to keep going, to keep fighting, and to keep healing. I will tell them that going through hard things is a guarantee, and that feeling pain is OK. But what is not OK is unpacking in their pain and living there. That they must walk through the hurt to get to the other side of healing, to move forward with their lives.


And if they look at me with tears or with fear in their eyes with questions about school, I will remind them that I will do my best to keep them safe, that I will trust their teachers to do the same, and that they, too, must have faith in the process, because this is truly all we can do.


If my sons want to know about Kevin, I will always say his name. Because speaking his name, even in death, means that he lived and was real, even if he was sick. Even if he needed help that he never got. Even if he scared me—more than I have ever been scared before, and even if he broke my heart more than my heart has ever been broken before—he was a real person. He was a human being, and when his mom looked into his eyes, she saw in her son what I see in my son: pure, unconditional love for this little human whom she created and who depended on her for his survival.


My heart will always break for Kevin’s parents—they will never experience some aspects of this life that they thought or hoped that they would—and so, I will always say Kevin’s name. And I will never say it with hate or disdain—only with the understanding that this was a young man who was very ill. That this was a young man who struggled profoundly with this existence on earth, and who paid the ultimate price for his struggle.


But when I talk about Kevin, I won’t focus on the day we weren’t sure what he was going to do. I won’t focus on feeling unsafe. I won’t focus on his death, or the uncertainty that I felt about what he was doing for all those months that first year of my teaching career or why he was doing it.


No, that’s not what I’ll share with my sons.

I’ll focus on the lessons, on what I gained. I’ll focus on what this experience has taught me about humanity, about vulnerability, and about allowing people to see who we really are. I will focus on asking for help when we need it, about human suffering and about healing.




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