Yesterday’s shootings at Virginia Tech have me wondering how much is enough, as well as how we can keep needed precautions from scaring our young children.
The school PunditGirl now attends has a receptionist on duty at the front door all during the school day, but parents and visitors pretty much come and go as they please — for reading time, lunch duty, parent meetings, etc.
It’s a nice thing — it’s cozy and familial. But I’ve often felt some unease with the possibility of evil gaining access to the school because of that neighborhood attitude and our sense that an elementary school is the safest of places. A few years ago, after some sniper-style shootings here, many preschools kept their doors locked all day, allowing people entry only after being viewed on a monitor and being buzzed in. I don’t know why that made me feel better — after all, the kids were on the playground a couple of times a day near an active community center with plenty of people coming and going.
After yesterday’s murders, I’m wondering how it’s possible to balance a discussion about possibly increasing safety precautions at her school with the reality that more of that may only serve to frighten the kids more than they already are.
PunditGirl had a million questions a few weeks ago after her school had a semi-regular “lock-down” drill. The only reason I knew about it was because I was there at the time for a parents’ association meeting and was required to participate, moving from an interior room with interior windows to one were we could not be seen. It was freaky enough for me, fully comprehending that this was just a practice drill for an event that I pray will never happen. I admit I felt the hair go up on the back of my neck as we huddled in the corner of the music room, amid the African drums, lights out and silent.
I learned that for the children, their drill involves making sure all the window blinds are closed, the window on the classroom door is covered, the door is locked and then they make the children gather in the corner furthest from the glass windows, trying to keep them from making a peep. How does a first-grader make sense of that, after you’ve explained that school is a safe and welcoming place?
PunditGirl grilled me for a week about why they needed to do that — is there a man with a gun trying to get in? How do I know it will be OK? How do I know that he won’t get in? She reports that some of her friends are now afraid to go to the bathroom by themselves for fear that there might be a “bad man” lurking in the stalls.
I’m at a loss as to how to answer her questions and how to assuage her fears. I could lie and say that no bad men will ever come into her school. But I can’t do that. Explaining that the odds are slim isn’t satisfying for either one of us. So the anxiety lingers. The fear has crept into her consiousness at home, as well. She wants to make sure all our doors at home are locked at night.
“Nobody’s coming in and nobody’s going out, right?” she asks us each and every night after she’s tucked in. I try to assure her that we’re safe as she voices her seven-year-old worries each night.
Now, how to figure out managing my low-level anxiety about the myriad scenarios racing through my mind?
Nancy also has a politically thoughtful post on the shootings over at The Soccer Mom Vote called, “When Tragedy Sets the Platform.” This is an aspect that struck me right away last night as the cable coverage went into overdrive.