Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Innocence is not lost, it is taken (Michael Keller)

One sunny day last fall, T and I zipped down to pick up Lili early from school.  Our eventual destination was the Bronx Zoo, which has discounted admission fees on Wednesdays and is a blast for both kids. We'd secured written permission for her to be dismissed just after lunch, and anticipated quick turnaround time at her elementary school since it's small and well-organized.

As we turned down Pound Ridge Road, I saw emergency vehicles blocking the school's entrance, lights flashing.  My heart immediately began pounding.  I pulled up next to one of the firetrucks and rolled down my window, only to find myself mealy-mouthed and unable to speak.  After a moment, I composed myself and told the fireman that I was there to pick up a student for early dismissal.  He pointed to where I could park my car, and told me to "be quick."

My mind raced.  What the hell was going on?!  It wasn't likely to be an injury or accident, because that would not require entrances and exits to be blocked off.  As I hustled in carrying T, we passed EMTs and policemen standing in groups in front.  We went to the window, I signed the book and asked the anxious-looking clerk if I could pick up Lilia Gomez who was in Mrs. Crupi's class.  She said that she wasn't sure they could release her yet because they were about to start a code-red drill.

A drill.  Thank God.  Hugely relieved, I pointed out fire trucks to T while we waited for the front office staff to sort out releasing Lili.  She eventually appeared, and as we walked outside, the kids hand in hand, I noticed that she did not seem remotely concerned by the mass of emergency personnel swarming her school.  Once in the car, I asked if she was excited to be getting out of school early to go on an adventure to the zoo.  "Well," she said, "I'm excited, but a little disappointed because we're having a lockdown and I'm going to miss it.  They're really fun."  

I was shocked.  Fun.  She thinks lockdowns are Fun.  Fun, in my opinion, is not synonymous with Lockdown.  One one level I found this heartbreaking, but also curious, so I initiated the following conversation:
K: What happens when your school has lockdowns?
L: It's really cool. We turn out the lights, crouch down away from the windows, and hide. No one can make any noise.
K: What are you hiding from?

L: Animals, usually.
K: Animals?
L: Yes. You know, sometimes a wild animal accidentally gets into the school, so we have to hide from them so they don't know we are here and hurt us.

K: A wild animal, like a deer?
L: Yes.  I hope we have another lockdown soon, since I'm missing this one.

I recounted stories of wayward deer jumping into a Greenwich Chinese restaurant and the seal tank at the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, and our conversation shifted away from emergency preparedness drills.  The exchange stayed on my mind long after my car pulled away from the school, though.  The kids enjoyed the zoo that afternoon, thinking of nothing but amazing animals (and the occasional snack).  My mind was still on the lockdown, and Lili's comments related thereto.

Late that night, I lay awake thinking things over.  I marveled at Lili's naiveté, and complete trust in the somewhat nonsensical explanation she'd been given for why her class had to play regularly scheduled lockdown "games."  I thought of the massacre at Sandy Hook, and the families - some of them known to us - whose children lost their lives, or (at best) their innocence.  I remembered the time, some years back, when I had been to a gun range and fired a gun.  How easy and inexpensive it was to rent or buy one, just flash a driver's license, fork over a little cash, and pick a target.  No test, no training. Just pay, point and shoot.  There were women's and even kid's themed gun models. Would you like a Hello Kitty AR-15 for your daughter?  Pink-handled pistol for your purse?

Lili was in first grade when the Sandy Hook School massacre happened, the same age as many of the precious children lost. T is about to start preschool, out of the my ever-vigilant sight, under someone else's supervision.  I believe that our schools are safe, I do. But I'm scared for our country, even our community.  How will we change in the next four years, without a president fighting for better gun control? What will we tell our children about the vitriolic, venom-spewing man leading our country?  If we preach a gospel of peace and love at home, will that be enough to balance out the increased outbreaks of violence and hate? When we encourage our children to trust the good guys with guns, our policemen, will they believe us?  Should they?

Sadly, I don't know.  This is not meant to be a political commentary. These are just the thoughts running around in my head, and sadly I don't expect to find answers to them any time soon.  For today, I will remember twenty children killed in the place where they should have been the safest, and the six adults who died trying their hardest to protect those little lives.  I will hug my baby boy tighter.  I will be grateful for all that I have, without forgetting all that was lost.