“Mom, I’m scared,” my fourth grader said as she walked out of school a little month after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings. “Why?” I asked. “We’re going to start doing lockdown drills,” she said.
I wasn’t surprised nor was I upset. It gives me a sense of security knowing that the teachers and staff at her school were taking the kids’ safety very seriously. Never the less, the fact lockdown drills are soon to begin, breathed a startling reality into the new world we’re living in. All three of my kids are aware of the general events at Sandy Hook. We chose not to tell them the specifics of that sad day. Listening to my daughter’s concerns about details of the lockdown drill, however, made me realize that they don’t need to know the specifics of Sandy Hook to feel the freight of that situation. Hiding in secret places in the school because someone is in the school with a powerful weapon brings its own, organic, freight, even if it is a drill.
So what do I say to calm the nerves of my children when they’re worried about something bad happening to them at school? What do I say to myself when I share that worry? The day of the Sandy Hook shootings, our school district posted a letter on their website with advice we could tell our kids to give them a sense of security at school. The letter said to remind the kids that the district as measures in place to protect the kids. Buildings are strategically built to protect them, school campuses have only one entrance the public is allowed through and guests must sign in and show ID when they visit. When all of this fails, they prepare the kids for the worst with lockdown drills. While this shows the many procedures in place to protect my kids, it doesn’t address the cause of the fear: the person who would go to such great lengths to hurt them. The person, even if they’re fictional, they are hiding from during a lockdown drill.
The great emotional guide of parents and children, Mr. Rogers, told us to focus our attention on the helpers. “When I was a boy,” he said, “and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” Maybe this is where I find the answers to calm the worry in myself and my children. Not only look for the helpers in a scary situation, but look for the human in the monster that might hunt them someday; the monster have they practiced hiding from. Recognizing this person is human, has a mother, father, has loved another, makes the person less scary.
To quote Mr. Rogers again, “When I say it’s you I like, I’m talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch. That deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed.” We all have this deep part of us that stands for love, peace and justice. Even those who hurt others because they are human too, it’s just deeper and more hidden in them. We see the difference between the person’s choices and actions, and their deeper, more human aspect. We wish them healing from what is obviously a lot of hurt, understanding through a great deal of frustration, and peace from a life they struggle to control. We wish this for them, even though we don’t know them, but we know they are out there going through their own Hell.
My children and I will always be worried about something bad happening to them in a place that used to be a safe haven. Knowing that their school has a team of people and a system there to protect them and giving my kids a strong, healing, compassionate peace of mind when they face scary times are the best tools I can give myself and my kids as they walk into school every day. We are brave enough to live the lives we need to. We are brave enough to inoculate ourselves against fear with compassion.
Jennifer Smith-Daigle is a freelance writer and owner of Looking-Glass Science, a company that creates science modules with academically simulated components for elementary schools. Her children are in fourth and first grades. She and her boys are survivors of Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome, being some of the first 200 people in the United States to be cured by Fetoscopic Laser Ablation surgery. Jennifer’s life before kids included world travel, historic preservation, and archaeology digs.