I had a post all typed out. It was witty and funny and full of snark, you know, all the areas I excel in. But I had “the dream” again. And I knew this post is what I needed to write.
I remember when I heard about Sandy Hook Elementary. I was working in retail management at the mall. One of our regular clients came in wielding her smart phone and telling us of the horror that was unfolding there. I felt sick. My kids were still babies then, far away from school age. That night I had a dream that I was standing out in front of Sandy Hook. I was trying to get in to help; to save the babies or get to them somehow. I couldn’t get through the crowd — it swallowed me and grew larger in front of me with every step I took. Closer and closer to the front I got, more and more people blocked my view. Then I woke up.
I have had versions of this dream, “the dream,” for years.
My boys go to a sweet little private Christian school with an atmosphere more like family than faculty and students. Most of the 18 year old graduates this year have been there since they were four or five years old. Walker is a pre-k favorite in his little black glasses with his huge personality. The teachers dote on him and help him navigate the campus like surrogate mothers in my absence. Maddox knows everyone. As a first grader, this is his third year of enrollment. His strong personality makes him a natural leader; kids from the upper grades treat him like a little brother, even coming to cheer him on at field day last year. My heart swells when I think of their school and the love for them and every student within those walls.
“The door is just unlocked. Like, anyone could get in there,” Maddox’s dad told me when he dropped him off one morning. I told him he was making too big of a deal about it. He emailed the school and they assured him they had a buzzer system in place for the coming weeks, but it was yet to be installed. A few days later I had “the dream.” This time I was at Maddox’s school. I was in a crowd of faces that were vaguely familiar; the other moms I had seen in drop offs and pick ups and I all trying to get into the door.
There was an active shooter and I couldn’t get in.
In “the dream” my mind raced — was Maddox okay? Where was the shooter? Had he stopped at the upper elementary grades or had he made it back to the preschool wing? Where were the kids? Were they locked in the en suite bathroom of their class? Were the teachers sacrificing themselves like we hear about so often in these tragedies to save their classroom babies? Was Maddox hurt or worse? As I made it closer and closer to the front, the faces turned to strangers, just bodies blocking me from the door. The more steps I took forward, the larger the crowd got. I was nearly to the front. I could see the door handle.
Then I was awake.
I worked for a few years in commercial construction. School systems were our clients. I found that in most cases, schools were hard to get into. I stopped having “the dream” for a while, the increased security measures and hoops I had to jump through to gain access to even the front hallways pacified my fears and quieted my subconscious.
Then a few weeks ago Nathan and I went out of town. We were on I-26 headed to Charleston for 10 days when my email inbox lit up with the first grade classroom newsletter. There, among spelling words and reminders to order tee shirts for casual dress days, were a few paragraphs informing the parents of a drill the kids had done. I felt like my head was in a vice grip. My blood turned to ice in my veins, then began to boil. I felt physically ill. My freckle-faced six year old, who plays too cool to kiss me in front of his friends but tells me ‘wove woo’ in his sweet little baby voice at home, who loves dogs and coloring and Legos, had an intruder drill. He and his classmates gathered in bathrooms and under desks in absolute silence and waited there for several minutes until the teacher gave an all clear and they resumed their daily work.
My six year old had a drill where he had to hide from some hypothetical lunatic who was coming in, literal guns a’blazin’ with intentions to kill elementary schoolers.
So what is the answer? Harsher legislation on firearms? Teachers with guns? An overhaul of the mental health system so these deeply, deeply sick and disturbed individuals can get help? I don’t know. But I do know that I am absolutely frustrated and heartbroken that my child and your child are being taught a drill to protect themselves from some madman on a sick killing spree.
In the 1960s there were nuclear bomb drills. Students hid from a far away danger. They hid from some foreign enemy who may want to harm all of America, they took shelter just in case the widespread effects of a bomb came their way. They hid from the cartoon faces on propaganda posters and parents built bomb shelters just in case their house in the mid-West caught fall-out from this international threat. When I was young we had tornado drills. We hid from a high-pressure weather system that, given the geography of South Knoxville, was highly unlikely to ever form. We took shelter in little balls, face down and heads covered just in case the sky opened up and a funnel devastated everything in its path.
My son and his friends hid from a hypothetical person that, if he were real, they probably would know or at least recognize. Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, and nearly every other school shooting have this chilling fact in common — they were orchestrated and carried out by a disgruntled student or in the case of Sandy Hook, a child of a teacher. My son and his friends hid just in case one of his own suddenly turned on him and did the unthinkable.
Later that day I called him and asked him about the drill, making it as lighthearted as possible. “You know mommy had to do tornado drills when she was little. Wasn’t that silly?!” I sing-songed to him while my palms dampened waiting for his answer. He was terrified. Some of his friends thought it was fun. He wanted to know why someone bad would come to their school in the first place and what exactly they’d do once they were there. I lied and said I didn’t know.