Reading, writing, lockdown

September 17, 2013

In D.C. this week, many of our kids got to know what a school lockdown was before they even got to back-to-school night.

This isn’t unique to the area, of course. Ever since the horrific massacre of first-graders and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary last December — and even earlier, in some cases — schools practice intruder, evacuation and lockdown drills.

Schools in Maryland and Virginia became old hands at lockdown drills in 2002, when snipers John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo terrorized the region for three weeks. In 2001, the Sept. 11 terror attacks taught school officials everywhere that kids need to know more than stop, drop and roll.

And even earlier this year, Quince Orchard High School in Montgomery County went into lockdown when two bounty hunters took their chase toward school grounds. And in 2011, Glen Forest Elementary in Falls Church went into lockdown because of a nearby jewelry heist.

As police searched for more suspects in Monday’s Navy Yard mass shooting, schools in the area locked tight — no one in or out — and outdoor recess was canceled.

Some parents freaked and said the schools were bad at communicating. Others praised the schools for creating a bubble of safety and security and responding well.

“Today’s tragedy emphasizes the need to be vigilant in our efforts to keep students safe when they are in our care,” wrote D.C. schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson, in a letter to parents Monday night. “This is yet another reminder that tragedies can and do happen. Our security protocols are incredibly strong and we update and train our principals and school staff regularly as best practices evolve.”

She included a flier breaking down how to talk to kids about traumatic events according to their age groups. “Very young children may regress to an earlier behavioral stage after a violent or traumatic event,” it said.

How sad that she has to even write this.

As for most D.C. kids, who started the day under cloudy skies and darted raindrops on their way into class, they emerged at the end of the day clueless, blinking at the bright sun and wondering why soccer practice was canceled.

Tuesday morning, parents played the “Did you tell them?” game.

“What did you tell them?” one mom asked.

“I told my older son, because he’d hear about it from other kids. But I kept my younger one clueless,” the mother of a third-grader and seventh-grader said.

A dad had a similar tactic, inoculating his son against the confabulations of the older carpool kids by telling him “a very bad man hurt a lot of people, but he is gone now.” And hoped that would be enough.

It becomes another parenting test. Do you tell your kids everything, prevent them from being shielded, coddled and bubble-wrapped?

A psychologist friend of mine confessed that she used the tragedy to smack down her tween’s near meltdown over something trivial Monday night.

Another mom said she gave her fourth-grader a total news blackout. The world is bad enough; she doesn’t need to hear more.

My kids always hear all of it. In our two-journalist household, it’s just about impossible to shield our children from world events and what we’re tapping out on the laptop and talking to the night copy desk about.

So, we try our best to explain it in their terms. I told my kids about the shooting, but didn’t elaborate on the search for phantom suspects and complete lockdown of our neighborhood.

We talked about Sandy Hook quite a bit last December. My older son’s school had intruder drills soon after. He said he was nervous whenever he was in the hallways for months after the drills. Even though it was much farther away from Washington, that one hit closer to home for them.

On Monday, I took the opportunity to explain why I kvetch every time they want to shoot Nerf guns, make pistols out of their fingers or chew their toast into gun shapes.

“Shooting isn’t funny. It isn’t always a game,” I told them. “Many times, someone is hurt when a gun is fired.”

“People were shooting at the county fair. They won a Smurf,” my little one countered.

True.

“And I don’t like that. That’s why you played the goldfish ping-pong game,” I said. Not a single one of the 25 ping-pong balls we bought for $5 landed in a bowl. At the darts, they won a stuffed clownfish.

“But darts are okay, right?” the older one said.

Nevermind.

The point is, it seems like we as a society could’ve had a break somewhere between the bubonic plague and mass shootings. Couldn’t our window when childhoods really are innocent have been longer than a century or so?

Not at the rate we’re going.

 

 

 

 

Petula is a columnist for The Washington Post's local team who writes about homeless shelters, gun control, high heels, high school choirs, the politics of parenting, jails, abortion clinics, mayors, modern families, strip clubs and gas prices, among other things.
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Clinton Yates · September 17, 2013