I got “that” call this morning.
The one that makes your entire body freeze and your breath catch in your throat.
“This call is to inform parents of a lock-down situation…”
That’s all you need to hear. The rest slides off your eardrums in a fog- “students are safe…” “lockdown has ended…” “more details will be provided…”
And of course you’re endlessly grateful to hear all those things, but all you can really hear, pounding like a drum against your forehead, is “What if.”
What if it had been his school?
What if it had been real?
What if the last time I saw him was the last time that I saw him?
What if what if what if.
I hate living in the What If Era- I hate that our children have to normalize monthly drills during which they practice hiding in closets and standing on toilets silently “so the attacker can’t see us, Mommy.”
I hate that my son considered never again wearing his beloved light-up sneakers because, “If it happens and we’re all hiding in the closet and he sees my sneakers I’ll put everyone in danger.”
I hate that he was five years old when he made that mental connection.
FIVE YEARS OLD.
When I was five years old my gravest concern was whether or not my bffs Alyse and Kristen would get to the teeter-totter as soon as recess started so we could reserve it for ourselves.
When I was five years old my biggest worry about anything getting into my classroom was having a stray bird poop on one of my papers, because my school had no air conditioning and we had to crank those old creaky windows open as far as they would go on the hot spring days that preceded our much-anticipated summer break.
My children are now 3 and 6 and have to worry about being shot and killed during circle time.
Do I sound dramatic? Well good, because this is dramatic.
This is so over-the-top disgusting and frightening that I often can’t even comprehend that we’re easing into an acceptance of it.
Last night I read about a school shooting in Colorado, one that I had no knowledge of until about 10 hours after it occurred because it wasn’t even deemed urgent enough to be “Breaking News” online.
This morning I brought my son to school and watched him smile, wave and walk away, and then prayed silently, as I do every morning, that I’d see him again tonight.
And then, while I was sitting at my desk trying to focus on a project but really wondering how early I could eat lunch without it being weird, my phone rang.
I saw the automated number for the town and knew it was a recorded message- probably a notice of a meeting or a school event reminder.
But no, it was “that” call. The one that stops you in your tracks.
Thank God it wasn’t “THAT” call- but it was still “that” call.
I hung up the phone and it immediately beeped- now I had to read an email about the “incident.”
Then I had to text my husband, who was just as shaken as I was.
Then I had to torture myself.
What was the last thing I had said to him? Was it “I love you” or “have a great day” or “see you tonight?”
What if I hadn’t gone in for that 3rd hug he requested as he was walking through the door?
What if I had yelled at him in the car this morning for taunting his sister, like I had done yesterday?
What if I had come home tonight, walked over to his place at the dining room table, and saw that never-ending book of world records he had excitedly checked out of the library on Monday, and was looking forward to reading with me every night this week, but I couldn’t read it to him?
What if that last picture I took with both of them, the second time around on that cheesy little carousel in the museum lobby that they HAD to ride until I felt like I was the one spinning- what if that had been the last picture I had with both of them?
What if the threat to the other school was a ruse and they were really targeting his school?!
That’s when you have to get a grip on the What If’s and force them back down into your throat before you completely lose your mind. So that’s what I did.
Glancing at the clock, I realized my seemingly-unending internal meltdown had only lasted 2 minutes. I took a deep breath, reminded myself that my kid was safe and secure, and I needed to go back to my project. It hadn’t been a real event; it hadn’t even been his school; nothing happened. He was fine.
He was fine.
I am not.
None of us are.
And none of us should be.
We should not have reached a place where we get these emails, take a deep breath, and go about our business.
We should not watch the entire world burning on the television every night and have no answers for any of it.
We should be outraged- we should be DOING something.
But what? What solves this? What makes it go away?
Do you have a clear answer? I certainly don’t.
So for now we live in the What If Era. We’ve settled in and we’ve accepted that “that” call is part of our world. As long as it’s not “THAT” call, we take a deep breath and minimize how insanely ridiculous this all is, and we go back to work.
I pray that one day we can get out of the What If Era- but until we do, I, like many of you, will say my silent prayer every morning as I watch my children walk away from me. I will hug them as hard as I can for as long as I can, as many times as they ask me to. I will make sure the last thing I say is always, “I love you.” And every time I get “that” call, I will torture myself with What If’s until I get them back into my arms again.
And you bet your ass that tonight I am reading about as many world records from that never-ending book as that kid wants to hear. Because I know just how damn lucky I am that tonight, I get to read it to him.