When our daughter enrolled in parochial school in 1999, we were impressed when the principal explained that there was a lockdown plan in place. Columbine had happened. There were also two incidents at this school that made such a plan necessary. One was an escaped inmate of a nearby penitentiary and the other a distraught man jumped into the river and emerged on school property. He wandered around and was subdued by male personnel while the children remained in a secure place.
These were the days when only deranged teenagers or an ugly custody suit were the scenarios we could imagine endangering our children’s safety at school.
Then September 11 happened. What could be worse than innocent civilians and emergency personnel being murdered while doing their jobs?
Then the Beslan school in southern Russia was overtaken by Chechen separatists, and we saw that terrorists have no regard for human life, not even children.
Last month, I put our toddler in daycare — my first foray into that situation in 12 years of motherhood. I’ve stayed home all these years and the three older kids are all in that aforementioned parochial school.
When I went to visit a local facility, the owner told me, without my asking, that they held three drills on a regular basis. Fire. Lockdown. And hide and seek.
The last one means that in 56 seconds, the entire staff and over 100 children can get behind changing tables and cabinets so that on the plasma screen in the lobby, it looks as though the place is deserted. They can hide your kids and this is a selling point. The kids think it’s a game. We parents know it’s a modern necessity.
This daycare center also has two days worth of food and medical supplies in case there is a disaster and you can’t get to your kids. (We live near a nuclear-power plant and a penitentiary — great neighborhood when you think about it.)
The thing about evil is that it is very hard to wrap your mind around it. Since the shootings in the Amish country on Monday, I’ve been trying to imagine my sons, ages 7 and 10, being forced to leave their 12-year-old sister behind with an armed madman and only a 15-year-old helper to care for the doomed little girls.
In a mainstream American school, would the mothers or teachers have tried to take this guy down? Maybe. But it never would have happened in a mainstream school with this particular lunatic because he was looking for the meek and the defenseless and he found it in the peaceful Amish community. As it turned out, this coward underestimated the resourcefulness of his victims and was surprised by their almost immediate ability to get help. Tragically, he sped up his plan by shooting the children before ending his own miserable life.
I’d just managed a few days before to assure my kids that the recent killings in a Colorado school were an isolated incident and that their school was safe. Even so, my ten-year-old son had nightmares of being chased and someone snatching his little brother. He was terrified.
So what are we to do? Well, I’ll tell you one thing. My daughter is getting a cell phone. I’m a parent who believes in taking it slow with technology and kids, and she certainly doesn’t need it for social reasons. But, for her security, she is going to have the tools that could help.
She grabs my cell phone out of my purse in the car, takes a photo of her baby brother sleeping in his car seat, makes it into my phone’s wallpaper, and puts it back in my bag without my knowledge. When I open the phone, there’s always a surprise. She also changes my ring tone so that I stand around looking annoyed, as if to say, “Who has that obnoxious hip hop rave ring and why doesn’t someone answer?” And it’s always me.
Kids who aren’t even allowed to have these modern tools can figure them out in about 60 seconds. So she’ll get her emergency phone.
Now I have to figure out what to tell the kids to do if they ever have a gun pulled on them. I always thought I would say, “Just cooperate. It’s safer.”
I think I’ll say, “Run. Just run and don’t look back.”
— Susan Konig, a journalist, is author of Why Animals Sleep So Close to the Road (And Other Lies I Tell My Children).