I was already on my usual route to pick up my 13-month-old daughter when her nursery school director sent a message to the parents: There was suspicious activity at the public building across the street, so the day-care center was on lockdown. Entirely precautionary, she assured us. Safety procedures had been quickly enacted — and you’ll forgive my paranoia, but I’m not going to say more about them here because the world sometimes feels like an orb of manure rotating on a spit, and publicly posting anyone’s lockdown procedures seems daft.
By the time I arrived five minutes later, helicopters were circling overhead and we had a little more information. A man had been fatally shot in the nearby building, occupants had fled in terror, and the gunman was still at large, but it seemed unlikely that he’d return to the area. Outside the nursery school I waited with other parents for the lockdown to end. One, revealing her endless capacity for silver linings, remarked that we were lucky that the day-care center’s neighbor was a medical facility.
The only silver lining I’d been able to think about was something I remembered learning at parent orientation: If worse came to worst, the cribs could roll. The cribs could roll and that is how the babies would escape.
Then I picked up my daughter and smelled her baby-shampoo head the whole walk home.
I tweeted about what had happened later that day and watched as I was retweeted or liked by close to 50,000 people — which is, for those of you smart enough or lucky enough not to be on Twitter, a lot of people.
Most of the responses were expressions of sympathy or horror. But as the tweet spread into wider circles, it gained wider responses and it became a microcosm of how we talk and think about gun violence and this country of ours.
“Stop spreading fear,” read one typical response.
“Phony drama,” read another, from a user who clarified that the drama was phony because, though babies were in lockdown, no babies had died. He added that I’d probably fabricated the whole shooting.
Some people suggested that what had happened wasn’t a big deal: It wasn’t a big deal that there had been a shooting because only one person had been killed. It wasn’t a big deal because more “unborn children” died via abortion than via school shootings, so if I really cared about harmed children I would focus on overturning Roe v. Wade (sir, I have news for you). It wasn’t a big deal that the school had to be prepared for such an event because schools also had to prepare with things like fire drills. Didn’t I want the school to have fire drills?
Several people acknowledged that it was a big deal but suggested it was my fault for not being a stay-at-home-mother. “Resign from your job,” someone directed.
Believe me, I’ve seriously thought about it, as has every working mother I know. But if I pulled my daughter out of day care to keep her safe, did that mean I should also keep her away from supermarkets, schools, churches, restaurants, parades, campgrounds, hospitals, McDonaldses, Airbnb rentals, outdoor concerts, indoor concerts, public transportation, Walmarts, military bases, block parties, festivals, synagogues, yoga studios, pharmacies, gas stations, retirement homes and libraries?
Those are some of the settings for mass shootings in the past five years.
Even on days when no children have died, we are every day raising them in a culture in which we have to worry that they might. And if they are raised in that worry, it will become their burden, too.
By the end of the day, I’d turned off my mentions. They were exhausting. They were useless. They had strayed far from the original point I was trying to make.
The point is that the babies in that classroom cannot walk yet. The point is that they cannot hide. They do not know how to play the quiet game. They cannot sense danger. If you come into the room with a teddy bear, they smile and clap, and if you come in the room with a banana or a stapler or a pair of swimming goggles, they smile and clap, and now day-care teachers in America have to think about how to stop them from smiling and clapping if someone comes in the room with a gun.
The point is that my daughter just learned how to point to her nose. The point is that the teachers in her room make the babies homemade strawberry ice pops when they are teething. The babies practice making faces in a mirror. They practice walking with a push cart.
But they cannot all walk yet, and so the point is that the cribs can roll. And the reason they can roll is that, if worse comes to worst, the teachers are going to be expected to scoop all of the babies up and get them into the cribs, and then run for their lives from a type of violence that is uniquely plausible in America, saving the babies who are only beginning to understand what it means to be afraid.