“What did you do at school today, Seamus?” It’s a question I ask him everyday.
“Well,” my proud preschooler begins, “we did not have a lockdown drill today.” And that’s about as far as he gets in the art of storytelling. Sometimes I’ll get something about “bim” (gym) or how “Bambi” (Jeremy) pinched him during free play. But the thing that preoccupies my precocious 3-year-old every single day he goes to school is the lockdown drill he and his classmates had in their first month of school.
At a parent-teacher conference in November, my husband Patrick and I got a fuller picture of this episode from his teacher. When the lockdown began, she says, Seamus and his classmates were in the hall on their way to the library. Amid the clangs, they sought refuge in the gymnasium closet. Eighteen kids and two teachers sitting crisscross applesauce on its floor amid racks of balls and hula hoops. Seamus, she tells us, sat on her lap with his fingers in his mouth and cried the entire time.
“Does he talk about it at home?” she asks.
“It’s as though nothing else happens at school,” my husband replies. “He talks about lockdown drills all the time.”
She informs us that the drills happen about once a month, and that Seamus remains easily startled long after they’re over, running for shelter between an adult’s legs whenever he hears loud noises in the classroom.
At that moment—not exactly one of my proudest—I burst into tears. I just couldn’t square my son’s loving exuberance and confidence in the people around him with the sheer, teeth-hurting terror of children being stalked by an armed killer through the halls of the Friendship School. How, after all, do you practice for the unthinkable? This is a subject that’s been on my mind since I was hardly older than he is now. I look over at him playing contently with his sisters, Madeline, almost 2, and Rosena, almost 9, so proud to share his classroom with them.
“At home,” I tell the teacher through my tears, “we chant ‘Gun Control, Not Lockdown Drills!’ whenever he talks about them.” And then I add, “It makes me so angry that he and his friends have to go through this trauma and the big men get to keep their right to bear assault weapons. He should be scared of lockdown drills. They sound terrible. He shouldn’t have to practice surviving a mass-killing episode at one of his favorite places in the whole wide world.” I wipe my tears away, but they just keep coming.
Our kids ask us all sorts of questions. Why? Why? Why? They are tiny existentialists. Why is the sky blue? Why do people die? Why does grass grow? They regularly demand that we explain the world to them. Good luck!