Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Hit The Deck

The "little kids" are in 7th, 8th and 9th grades this year. (Our "big kid" is now 21 and is still toiling away in South Africa, selflessly giving over two years of his young life to serve others. That kid. Love him.)

Wait, where was I? The little kids, that's right. (They are so called, by the way, because of the 6-, 7- and 9-year age gaps between Adam and the rest; it helped us to sort them into groups as they were growing up.)

So, the little kids are in their junior high and freshmen years and they're doing those typical junior high and freshman things: you know, having friend drama, changing classes, growing out of shoes at an exponential rate.

And, apparently, doing "hit the deck" drills.

Have you heard about these? These are safety drills practiced on school campuses, where a teacher or other adult blows a whistle in a predetermined pattern and all the kids everywhere milling about immediately drop to the floor or ground. Then, they Army crawl to the nearest building or classroom, from wherever they are. Why are kids everywhere doing these drills you ask? Well, in case a mad gunman is on campus taking pot shots at students and teachers, of course.

I was standing in my bedroom changing clothes this afternoon when Macy was telling her dad, Tanner and Karlie about today's drill. Her tone was nonchalant and a little annoyed, and Tanner and Karlie both chimed in about how they hated doing the drill and how stupid it was. But this was the first I'd heard of the drills and as soon as Macy began describing the mechanics, I immediately choked up. My eyes were swimming with those instant tears you get as a mom sometimes, and the thoughts jarred me, "Why? Why do we have to teach our children to drop to the ground to avoid a gunman? Why is this their reality? Why do they have to live with this kind of horrific vigilance?"

As I stood there clutching a shirt to my chest, I listened in again to the conversation going on in the next room, and I heard the tone of Macy's voice change and in her ornery, mischievous tone she said, "So, a bunch of us started acting like zombies; you know, snarling and making zombie noises while we crawled to the building." Laughter ensued.

Standing there, I was now troubled for a different reason -- were my kids too callous? Didn't they get that the reason they do this disturbing drill is because kids their age around the country have been in the horrific scenes that we've seen play out on our TVs and across our computer screens? Don't they understand this is nothing to laugh about and this is terrible?

My family had no idea the emotional drama playing out in my heart in the next room, and I'm glad I wasn't in the same room with them where I might have spoken up and shared all the jumbled thoughts barreling through me. Because it only took a moment for me to remember the times, as a little girl in Ohio, that in my 2nd grade class we would hear an alarm at the school and we would all immediately put our pencils down and crawl under our desks and cover our heads with our arms for a bomb drill. You know, a bomb drill - designed to protect us from an atomic bomb or any other bomb that evil people might drop on our heads.  Then there was the other alarm that would ring over the loud speaker that signalled a tornado drill and we would all fall into line and head down the hall to the boys' bathroom, where we would stand tightly packed together pretending we were waiting out a howling tornado.

And do you know what I remember about those drills? I remember peeking out from under my arms under my desk to see if my friend Jenny was peeking, too. Then I'd look to the right to see if Tom Heckman was peeking or whether his shoes were tied. His shoes were never tied. Now, the tornado drills, those were the best -- my friends and I loved them because WE GOT TO GO IN THE BOYS' BATHROOM! It was so cool -- we got to be in the boys' bathroom with the boys and WE DIDN'T GET IN TROUBLE!

I wasn't worried about mean men trying to kill us with a horrible bomb, whatever that was; I wasn't afraid the wicked tornado was going to rip our school apart. I was a little keyed up because these drills were a break in the routine, there was a little bit of adrenaline associated with them for some reason, and frankly, they were kind of exciting. I didn't know to be afraid; the grown ups were in charge, they were calm and I felt safe. As it should be.

Now, my kids aren't in 2nd grade, and they're fully aware of the mass shootings that have been going on. I'm reassured they don't take school or theater shootings lightly because I saw my girls crying when Tanner and his show choir performed a special tribute to the Newtown victims, and I heard them all talking at different times about how sad the situation was, and I've seen their troubled faces. I saw their alarm and worry when we learned that the daughter from a family we're friends with was supposed to go see that midnight showing of "Dark Knight" in that theater in Aurora, Colorado where she's going to college, but she decided early that evening to go to a different theater further away instead. But her friends who did go to the theater that night without her? Well, one of them was shot -- thankfully, she survived and recovered.

I know my kids did suffer and grieve for the terrified victims we've learned so much about in recent months, they worried -- if quietly -- about whether IT could ever happen here or to them, their hearts were confused and a little broken, and they lost a little bit more of their innocence and wonder.

It's real to them, they get it.

So, you know what?

I'm OK if today they can laugh at the prospect of turning "hit the deck" drills into their own stylized "Walking Dead" clips.  I'm glad that they don't get that sick clutch in their gut when they hear the whistle. I'm glad that it's just a pain-in-the-butt drill to them. Because the adults on campus can do the worrying for them. The adults can shudder as they try to suppress the images that immediately spring to mind of the little ones gunned down who could so easily have been students in their own charge. And our kids? They can be annoyed that the ground is cold or that the building is so far away; they can be zombies snarling at their squealing prey.

And I can choose not to require them to really think about what the drills mean and not implore them to understand how serious and important they are. I know at some level they know, and I don't want them to dwell in the sorrow of it. I know they suffer when these things happen in real life; I know they're not joking about mass shootings when they hit the deck. They're trying to push the reality of what they're simulating out of their minds, and that's what I want for them. I want them to push away that helpless sorrow and let the adults deal with the day-to-day of it.

Because they're my "little kids," and heaven knows they don't have many more years until they'll be the adults closing their eyes to shut out the images, or folding their arms across their stomachs as the fear and grief clutch their insides. For now, I'd rather they worried about being cold on the ground.

And, who knows, those zombie evasion and imitation skills just might come in handy some day.

Love from the farm,

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