“If there’s a break-in, you hide in the little room”

The day my pre-kindergartener taught me about school shootings

Yesterday, my 4 (almost 5) year old started his first real day of school. He was accepted into our local public Montessori school, which is so popular yet so small that any kid at the Pre-K level has to earn a spot at the school through a random lottery. The odds of winning this lottery are slim, but, he won! My husband and I were elated when we got the letter informing us that our sweet little dude got a spot at the school and we were also excited to proudly support our public school district during a time when more and more parents in our town are making the choice to ditch our community schools for various other options. (For the record, we would have stayed with our public neighborhood school even if our son didn’t get into Montessori- he would have just had to wait another year to go to Kindergarten).

My mom anxiety was high the morning of his first day of school while we all waited in the 100-degree gym as the kids lined up in their respective class lines and headed to their new classrooms. My son’s teacher was kind and soft-spoken and I could tell he was already in love with her sweet spirit and his new daily routine. I felt anxious over not exactly knowing what was happening; I was unclear about drop-off, pick-up, how would he get his lunch, go to the bathroom, would he be okay? He has been in full-time day care for years, but that environment seemed much more controlled and this new school environment seemed to have so many more uncontrolled variables. I took a deep-breath and reminded myself that my son is friendly and outgoing and the school was shuffling these 4 and 5 years old like a well-oiled machine so I needed to let my mom control go and let my little guy live. Okay, deep breath. I told him to have the best day ever and left with my husband, both of us talking about how we couldn’t believe this stage of our lives had already arrived. Our first kid was in school. Like, real school. Wow. We did it, we made it to the next level of parenting.

My sweet little dude on his first day of school, 8/20/18

I was excited to return back approximately 6 hours later to pick up my little dude and hear all about his first day of school. I underestimated the intensity of the parent pick-up line and ended up being stuck in-line for almost 30 minutes which meant my kid was one of the last to be picked up. He told me I better get there sooner next time and I told him I would, that mommy was learning too and next time would be better! (I love being shamed by my 4-year-old). He was so excited to tell me he used a spork at lunch (MOM! It is a SPOON with little FORKS ON IT!!) and was chattering happily the whole way home. I was so excited and so happy for him. I was also nervous for this next stage of parenting that apparently is going to require me to be a lot more timely. Life is sweet, especially when you get to see in through the innocence of a little person’s eyes.

It was that same sweet innocence that full-on gut-punched me this morning as little dude was getting ready for his second day of real school. My husband and I were asking him all about the special classes he will get to go to such as music, art, gym and asked if he got to go to any special classes on his first day. Little dude told us that he in fact got to go to gym and meet his gym teacher (“he’s a boy, mom”) and then what he said next stopped me in my tracks: “…and if there’s a break -in, you hide in the little room next to the gym and you don’t let anyone in.” He then went on to talk about where you go when there's a tornado and a fire, etc. etc., la la la, but my mind was stuck on if there's a break in. If there’s a break in?? What is he talking about? What does …what does that mean… OH. WAIT. SHIT. He’s talking about a school shooter. They call it a break in. OH. MY. GOD. I looked at my husband and we locked eyes and communicated one million thoughts and fears and a whole pound of sadness in that one look.

As a side note: my heart has broken with each of the school shootings I have heard about, read about, and been way over-exposed to with the way the media works these days. As a parent, my heart broke with the thought of losing your child so unexpectedly and so senselessly. I believe in and support gun control and I think we have a serious issue in this country, the USA, the county from what I have heard has the highest rates of school-shootings in the world. I can not imagine the pain and sadness so many moms and dad have had to endure due to this.

But, there was something about hearing my own sweet, happy, friendly, outgoing, funny 4-year-old talk to me about keeping himself safe from a school shooting so nonchalantly and without a second thought that literally stopped me in my tracks and broke my insides. My eyes welled with tears and I went over to him and picked him up and told him “Listen to me. If there is ever a break- in at your school, you hide buddy, and you hide so good and you make yourself so small and you do everything you need to do to keep yourself safe.” I could tell he was confused. “Why are you crying, mom?” he asked, and all I could say through choked tears was “because I love you so much buddy and I don’t want to lose you.”

And this is the world we live in. On the second day of school ever, my four year old, is telling me how to hide from a “break-in” and I am secretly praying to a God I don’t believe in to please keep my sweet boy safe while he’s away from me at school, at a place where I should never even have to question is a place where he is anything less than safe, happy, and free.

What are we doing. What the hell are we doing as people. I thought for a long time about this morning, about my own grade school experience which was so less managed then this next generations’. There were no pick up or drop off lines, kids wandered in and out of the building, played on the playground before and after school, and parents trusted that the kids would end up where they needed to be. There were also no “break-in” drills or plans either, though, and until today it wasn’t even on my radar that my own child would be taught how to keep himself safe from some broken person with a gun on his very first day of school.

I know sending my kid to public school was the right choice for us and our family. But a small part of me wondered today, did I do the wrong thing? Am I sending him into a lion’s den, is this the best way to protect him? I don’t want him to die. At school. Sigh.