A few weeks ago, I got an email from the principal of my 5-year-old son’s elementary school. The email informed me that the school had conducted its first “code red” drill of the year. You know, the one they do in hopes of preventing the children from being murdered if a deranged person with an arsenal enters the school and starts shooting.
It’s a charming little school—kindergarten and first-grade only—set in a quiet, residential neighborhood. I imagined my son and his classmates huddled in a dark closet, trying to be as quiet as possible. I felt queasy.
On the drive home from school later that day, I ever-so-carefully questioned him.
“Did you guys have a… safety drill today?” I asked.
“No, no, we had a lockdown drill,” he replied, sounding slightly exasperated with me. “We have three kinds of drills: a lockdown drill, a fire drill, and an evacuation drill. This one was a lockdown.”
“Oh,” I said.
When no more information was forthcoming, I prodded, “So, what did you guys do during the drill?” Super casual-like.
“We heard this sound, and we had to sit down wherever we were standing. Then all the doors, even mine, were locked.”
“A sound. Like an alarm?”
“Were the police there?”
“Yeah, they were the ones who made the sound.”
“Ah,” I said. Then: “Do you know why they do this kind of drill?”
“It’s like in case there’s someone in the school who shouldn’t be there. Or an animal.”
“Hmm,” I said. “Like a bear?”
“Or any animal. Because you don’t know if it’s wild. You should leave that up to a vet.”
“You’re absolutely right,” I said, and left it at that.
And then, Wednesday’s shooting in Florida.
The 30th mass shooting THIS YEAR. The eighth school shooting THIS YEAR. Seventeen people dead, many of them students. Murdered. At school.
I’m not planning to tell my kindergartener (or his little brother) about school shootings anytime soon. Experts back me up on this, saying there’s no need to bring it up with a child, unless he or she has been directly affected, until about age 8 or so. It’s perfect, really: I’ll break the news that Santa Claus is not real, but assure them that people who murder schoolchildren definitely are.
I know that statistically, the chances of my children being involved in a school shooting are way lower than, say, being killed in a car accident—as so many on social media are fond of reminding us. “Why don’t we ban cars then?” goes one of the familiar, idiotic, totally-misses-the-point arguments.
Still, it’s hard not to whisper a silent prayer, when I drop off my kids in the morning, to please don’t get murdered at school today.
When the next school shooting inevitably happens—probably not too long from now—I am going to tear off my clothes, set them on fire, and run, naked and howling, through my leafy suburban neighborhood. I will smash firearms with my bare hands and burning rage. Because I’m not sure what else to do at this point.
But for now, I’m going to put away my computer and go hang out with my kids.