From my kitchen table I can see the street. A few houses up the street is a school. It’s the school where I sent my two little boys this morning. They are in first grade and kindergarten.
We live in a small town, very family-oriented. There are good people in this town, raising good children. The school is pre-k-8, with only about 250 students in total.
From my kitchen table I heard the sirens, which made me lift my head from my laptop. Racing in the direction of the school, I saw one, two, then three police cars followed by two first aid vehicles. All speeding. All speeding to clearly take care of something serious. Serious usually means tragic.
School shooting. That was my first thought. My first damn thought was school shooting.
Once upon a time, sirens meant that somebody got hurt, perhaps a car accident, or an elderly person fell down, or a woman was in labor and alone.
Once upon a time, I would have had a brief moment of curiosity and then continued working.
Once upon a time, I would have forgotten about the sirens and the rushing vehicles.
But, not today. Today I started trembling, thinking the worst. And I am not that person. I am certainly not that kind of mother.
But, today I slid on my boots, grabbed my son’s Super-Man umbrella and left my warm home and big workload to scurry down to the school in the pouring rain.
From down the street, I saw Mr. Sheeran’s car pull into the school parking lot and panic overtook me. He’s a retired veteran, very involved with the local law enforcement. He had no reason to be at the school. I thought that undoubtedly he must have a police scanner, or inside information on this emergency.
But no. I was wrong. He was simply raising the flag from half-mast after Veteran’s Day.
Approaching the school, I peered around the corner and that’s when I saw them—all the vehicles I had hoped were headed toward a resident’s home or a minor traffic accident—were all flashing their intoxicating blue and red lights in front of the main entrance the school. The sirens were silenced.
No other parents were around, so I diagnosed myself as a paranoid, crazy mom and I scrambled back home, not fully shaking the feeling of uneasiness. As I was entering my front door, my neighbor, Kim, pulled over in her beige SUV.
“Do you have any idea what’s going on at the school?” she asked, with a shaky voice and a mother’s worry in her eyes.
“Not a clue,” I replied. “I heard the sirens and saw the cops rushing that way, so I kind of freaked out,” I said, pointing toward the school.
“Do you think everything’s okay?” she asked, desperate for whatever reassurance I could offer.
Feeling just as anxious as her, I replied, “I think if it were a shooting, there would be more help here. There’d be cops and ambulances from other towns racing to the school. Maybe a kid choked on a grape or broke an arm. The cops have nothing to do in this town, so they all show up to every situation.”
Not buying it, she said, “Maybe it’s mothers’ intuition that we both felt compelled to check it out. Should I call the school?”
“Yes,” I said, without hesitation, “please call.”
“Hi Kathy, it’s Kim,” I heard her say to the school secretary, “I saw the commotion at the school and some of the other moms and I are worried. Everything okay?”
She nodded while listening to Kathy’s response, thanked her and said to me, “It was just an accident and all the students are fine.”
“That’s very vague,” I said, “But I feel better.”
I still don’t know exactly what happened today at the school. It’s still two hours until pick-up. Here’s what I do know:
I remember hearing about Columbine, I was shocked, yet intrigued by the nuances of the story. Living across the country, I felt removed from it, but fear was my predominant emotion. But not fear for me personally. From the security of my college dorm room, I couldn’t stop thinking about how scared those kids must have been.
I remember hearing about Virginia Tech, and again, I felt removed. My college days were over, but I thought about the students who attended that school. I wondered how they’d be able to walk around campus, or even the rest of their lives, ever feeling safe again.
I remember Sandy Hook. Struggling with two young babies, as well as losing our home in Hurricane Sandy, this tragedy put things in perspective for me. It made me feel grateful for, in comparison, the absurdity of my situation. My babies were safe. My family was together. What else mattered?
I do remember seeing the sweet faces of those lost in Sandy Hook. And I remember finally crying. It was my first shooting to occur since I became a mother. I cried for the babies of mothers I didn’t know. I cried for those parents, those siblings, those classmates and teachers. I felt that one. And it hurt bad.
The Aurora, Colorado movie theatre. Multiple church shootings. Pulse Nightclub. Las Vegas.
What the hell is happening?
All these tragedies have always left me feeling overwhelmingly sad. As I’ve grown through different stages of my own life—from college to career to motherhood—the severity has become more palpable. My compassion has increased. My sympathy has increased. My fear has increased. But, I was still plagued by the “it could never happen here” syndrome.
Today my sad finally turned to mad. I hate that a series of sirens that could have been headed ANYWHERE, convinced me that my children were in danger. I hate that a series of sirens prompted me to head out in the pouring rain, ignoring my work and letting my coffee go cold. I hate that a series of sirens, that I once would have ignored, made me tremble, thinking the worst.
I hate that my motherly instinct now includes protection from mass shootings.
Today my sad turned to mad.