Thursday, February 03, 2005

the beginnings of understanding

As the kids were straggling upstairs to bed, DS1 was teasing DD about something. As I was a few steps behind, it wasn't until I reached the top of the stairs that I could make out what DD was saying, "I don't ever want to hear that word again!"

What word?


DS1's class had practiced lockdown today. The teacher locked the door and turned out the lights, and the children crawled under the tables, waiting there quietly until the drill was over.

DS1's attitude was typical of what I remember feeling about fire drills when I was his age: wow, this is cool, we get out of doing schoolwork. We never even considered the possibility that there would ever be a real fire.

DD has been through any number of fire drills, since she has been going to school since before she turned three. Until today, she had never even heard the word "lockdown" before, and she asked me why her brother's class had practiced it today.

This is a typical parental tightrope situation: I don't lie to my kids. If there are things I don't want to discuss with them, because they are not ready -- or I am not ready! -- I'll tell them that, straight out. But this wasn't a time I could take a pass like that, I really needed to tell them what lockdown was for. At the same time, I didn't need to scare them out of their wits. As with many things, a delicate balance was required. DS1 seemed to think it was kind of cool and fun, and it seemed best that he understand that if he ever were in a real lockdown situation, it would be something very serious indeed.

So I said, "Sometimes people come into a school to do bad things. You go into lockdown to keep you safe."

DS1's idea of people who do bad things is rather limited. He asked, "What are they trying to steal?"

"They're not trying to steal anything. They're trying to hurt people."

I think of the terrorists in Beslan, all those terrified children in Chechnya, eating the flowers they had brought to give their teachers on the first day of school. So many dead. My heart is breaking.

We say our prayers all together like every night, and the kids get into their beds. DS1 has already forgotten about lockdown. DD looks scared and on the verge of tears, tiny in her big bed. I kissed her forehead.

"Don't worry. You have lots of good people around you to keep you safe."

She kissed me and said, "I know."

But now she knows, too, that the possibility of evil is quite real, even here in the midst of our idyllic lives. And so we must prepare.

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