Our chit-chat about the cheetah on PBS’s Wild Kratz shifted to “lock down drills.” How my daughter connected cheetahs to one of her experiences at school is beyond me. I just followed her lead. I wanted to know what she knew.
I am familiar with lock down drills. Once, in my brief life as a high school teacher, my school had a lock down when a German shepherd needed to search lockers and the perimeter. Did this mean our elementary school had a need to sniff out drugs, guns, or bombs? I hoped not. I asked Melisandra to tell me more.
She described how the teacher locked the door to the room and how the students sat on the floor in a line against a wall. They were practicing, she said, “in case there’s an intruder.”
Intruder? I liked this word.
Intruder is much less scary than a terrorist, drug lord, or gun-toting-kid-on-a-suicide mission. What a relief to know my kid received an explanation without gory details.
I could have left it at that. But now I wanted to share. “When I was a kid, we had tornado drills and fire drills. A lock down drill is new.” My daughter appeared to be listening, so I continued.
“You see,” I said, “things changed awhile back. One of my first years of teaching, there was this high school in Colorado, and two boys went inside with guns ….” I could see I had about sixty more seconds to make my point. Melisandra’s seven. She doesn’t know we live in a world where young people conspire to violently retaliate against jocks/geeks/bullies/teachers.** Her main source of maddening conflict is having a sister who plays with her toys without permission. She doesn’t know about peer pressure, high school culture, and most importantly, how both encompass the whole universe when in the thick of it.
I thought: What am I doing? Why should I paint the image of young men shooting guns at students and teachers? Stick to the first idea—intruder—a person who peeks in windows or is lost and/or may very well be harmless. Intruder means, let’s lock the doors and wait for this one to pass. I might be angry about people deliberately hurting, even killing, other people, but really, this conversation can wait.
So, I stopped. I hoped she wouldn’t remember much about my Columbine story. I said, “What happened in Colorado is rare. And most likely, your drills will be just that.” I wanted to continue with other assurances like how we live in a safe community, but I paused, waiting to see where our conversation would shift next. Perhaps I had said enough.
She pointed at the cupboard where we keep a jar of Dum-Dum suckers and asked in her sweet voice if she could have a treat. She picked a blue raspberry. Soon, after several minutes of licking, she looked in the mirror and laughed at her blue tongue.
**A more recent perspective on Columbine.