The Day My Daughters Debriefed Me On Their First Active-Shooter Drill

(I first posted this essay on Medium)

We received an email, we also received a flyer with the same information. My twin daughters, their school uses an app called “Class Dojo” to communicate to parents. They used that too. But I wasn’t prepared. Never mind that Columbine, Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook are seared into my memory, benchmarks of my late adolescence and early adulthood. Never mind I’ve spent the last 15 years learning to cope with my time as a correctional officer, the defense mechanism that engages when I tell people that my dad kept us fed, housed and clothed by teaching prison guards to fight dirty and to shoot to kill.

I don’t know that there’s any way to prepare yourself to hear your twin kindergarteners walk you through their first active-shooter drill.

The administration doesn’t call them “active-shooter drills,” but that’s what they are, because I’m familiar with the other two drills they ran through. The fire drill: “We met under the tree by the gym. Everybody had to come out. EVERYBODY in the school, Daddy.”

And I know the tornado drill, too: “We had to kneel like this the whole time. It made my neck hurt.”

But the lockdown drill, I had never done. Not in Kindergarten. Not after Columbine. Not in my college writing classroom after Virginia Tech. They shelter in place. Each classroom is equipped with blackout shades on the doors. There’s no siren. The teachers just know. Know to tell the children to sit close to the wall, sit criss-cross. Be silent.

I asked them why they thought they needed to do this drill, and Kate said to me, “If a real bad guy comes.” I left it at that. I need to leave at that. I wanted to be sure that none of their classmates had somehow gotten all the terrifying subtext of this exercise.

They’re in different classrooms, around the hall from one another, but they told me when they did the lockdown drill, Annie was in art and Kate was in music. It took that for me to realize that they wouldn’t be together in the event of the unthinkable.

I start a new job in a couple weeks, and I’ll be working from home most days. I think subconsciously I took the gig in hopes of reining in the emotional monsoon that is Sending Your Children To School In 2018. I’ll be a few blocks away, but it still feels so far away.

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