Keeping things calm for the kids in a tense moment for the adults.
Thursday's are half days at Lily's school so we usually hang out for a while after class is out. Lily and Anya run wild with the kids while I chat with the other parents; sometimes we even bring snacks to share, although that hadn't happened today. Anya is always exhausted by this point, but I push it so everyone can burn off energy. Today I was pushing it too far by the time I called one minute and packed up our things. I hadn't eaten lunch (or much of a breakfast) and I was noticing my hands starting to shake when a bell sounded as we passed through the gate from the Kindergarten playground and headed for the quad. They rarely ring the bell at Lily's school and I popped my head up to watch it ring, my brain working too slowly to pull in the other elements around me: helicopter overhead, the squawk of a siren as it passed the school.
Just as we passed the art classroom, Jacob popped his head out and yelled to us, "Inside! NOW! Lock down." My heart jumped into overdrive while I grabbed the girls, speaking as calmly as I could, telling Lily I'd answer her questions when we were inside. "What's going on?" I asked as Jacob lead us to his Kindergarten class. "I don't know yet." He replied and I watched as the doors slammed shut and the shades slid into place, locking the room down. The place was full of kids, all of them talking too loudly, a couple crying. The wide-eyed parents each clutched a handful of children, not all of them their own, and we all passed looks back and forth over their heads while Jacob took control of the room.
"We don't know what's happening yet," he told us. "This might just be a drill. But I'm going to find out. "
"What's a drill?" Lily asked.
"It's like a practice."
"What are we practicing?"
"Listening and doing as we're told when there might be a problem." I explained, still trying to keep an easy, soft voice despite the adrenaline coursing through me. I was shaking pretty intensely now, a combo of fear and low blood sugar. Luckily, the girls didn't really seem aware.
We took half the kids over to Lily's classroom and her teacher popped a video in for the kids while parents started making calls. I dialed Mark, letting him know what was happening and that I didn't know when we'd be home. He hadn't been feeling well and was already home for the day, so had missed us by then. Lily's teacher was on the internet, trying to figure out if there were any reports in our area.
Shortly after, Jacob returned to the class and gave us the all clear. Apparently with the helicopter overhead and four police cars parked on the street in front of the school, our principal had decided to take the safe route and call for a lock down while she figured out if there was a danger. There wasn't one for us, luckily. Honestly, I would have made the same call in her situation and felt a bit safer knowing she'd rather err on the side of caution than allow the possibility of one of our kids stepping into danger.
But it was terrifying. Everyone leaving the school had a tighter grip on their kids, but I tried to give them a little space, not wanting them to feel the quake in my hands or feel the fear pass through my body into theirs. And yet, this is what it feels like to let go. Letting them take their own steps into the world means I can't always control what happens to them. I have to make the best choices I can and trust they are in the care of those who will protect them, which I felt the school was doing today. I can't control where the liquor store robber will run or who will have the worst day of their life and do something stupid. I can't predict what the world will do. I can only spend the whole ride home talking to Lily about what to do if that ever happens again.
"If you hear the bell like that again, Lil, I want you to get into the nearest classroom as fast as you can. It doesn't matter if it's not your classroom, just go through the closest door and look for an adult, OK?"
"OK. But, Mama?"
"I'm glad you were with us."
So am I. Oh, God, so am I.