When my daughter was in Kindergarten, she hopped into the car after school one day (weighted down by her backpack almost twice the size of her) and in a very matter-of-fact way said: “Today I learned about what to do if a skunk gets into the school. I don’t want it to see me, or spray me, so we learned where to hide.”
She launched into full detail about hiding in a corner, with some kids under a desk, some behind the door, and everyone all scrunched up in a ball with eyes averted from the door.
Gasp for air. Nausea. A little burn in my throat.
Thank goodness I was driving or my girl would have seen the visceral reaction this momma bear had to the play-by-play of the lockdown drill in her elementary school where I send her each day under the assumption she’ll be happy, learn, make friends, blossom, grow and, above all things, be safe. That drive home felt like an eternity (4 whole minutes) and covered at least three additional topics including recess, lunch and art. But for me, those first few comments made an indelible mark on my spirit. And on my parenting.
I was OK with her thinking a lockdown drill was because of a skunk, and my little guy now thinks the same thing. The hubby and I have been committed to sheltering our kiddos from the horrors of the world, and we own it. And we’re just now – big girl approaching 10 – opening her eyes slowly, deliberately and systematically to just how many dangers and terrors there are around us – both near and far.
Let’s not confuse two important things here, though. Our kiddos know that they live a privileged life, which just recently was described to me as a life with love and safety. For sure, they’re privileged. And they have stuff and experiences and more stuff, along with the love and safety. For all of that, we work hard, and I find nothing more gratifying in the world than providing for them.
But they know the world doesn’t look like our cozy little corner of the Midwest. Certainly not even our amazing, cherished and nearby city of Chicago looks like what they see and experience each day in their community– and they know that. Do they understand it on a deep level or think about it often? Certainly not. But we continue to talk about differences in the world, among people and communities, and we emphasize how lucky we are while working to do acts of kindness and charity work to help others.
Teaching our kids that the life they live is special is important to us. But so is protecting their young, hopeful, optimistic spirits. Thus, they don’t know that at any moment in time our cozy corner could become just the opposite, that mommy needs to tame her nerves each and every time we enter a stadium, that airplanes are anything more than a marvel of science and technology. For me, creating a privileged life for our kids means love and safety, but also a sense of security.
I’m beyond grateful that there has yet to be a crash course in something terrible for my kiddos, and I mourn for the parents and children who experience something dramatic “too close to home.” As a parent, I’ll continue to slowly peel back the rose-colored lens we’re all born with that becomes tinted dark throughout life.
But why not give them the privilege of waking up each morning worrying only about if their friends will be nice or pick on them that day? Right now, I worry enough about terrorism, climate change, random acts of violence and school safety – they don’t need to expend that energy worrying, too.
After the kindergarten play-by-play of the lockdown drill, I figured I’d have recovered by the time she told me again about it in first grade. But this time, it rattled her, too.
At the time a confident first-grader, my big girl was in the bathroom during the lockdown drill. Hoping to make sure the “wild animal” in the school wouldn’t even know she was in there, my little lady stood on the toilet as she was previously instructed and waited until the principal popped his head in to clear the bathroom before she uttered a word.
Now stop for a moment and picture this: Your little person who you love with every bit of your being standing on the back of the toilet to hide his/her feet from a “skunk” in school. I bet you’re feeling something right now.
When she told me, I felt the tears well up and spill over, and that familiar burn in the back of my throat.
And her teacher – a now-retired, loving, sweet woman – cried a little and hugged her when she returned to class with the other 19 kiddos clapping their hands with pride in her action and reaction. They knew what she did was brave and bold and awesome. And all in the name of a stinky, dangerous, “wild skunk.”
My wheels have been spinning lately as the topic of teaching our children mental toughness arose among fellow moms and family, and yesterday the dreaded email reporting the district-wide lockdown drill landed in my inbox. Of course I am forever grateful that our district does whatever they can do to be prepared and prepare our teachers and children for the worst, but the thought of it all makes me nauseated. And sad. And grateful. And fearful. And grateful. And conflicted. And grateful.
How do you talk to your children about the “real world”? Please share with us here or on my Facebook Page Grateful Girl.
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