Four Little Birds
“Why are the flags at half mast??”
Howie, my eleven year old asked me this as I dropped him and his little sister off at school yesterday morning. We were in the drop off lane, and I know that the protocol in that setting is to get your kids out of the car immediately to avoid the wrath of the line of cars behind you. “As if they were storming the beaches of Normandy” I read in some tweet or meme or something. So I quickly but gently said,
“There was a shooting at a school a couple of days ago in Nashville, TN. I can tell you more about it when you get home.”
I’m not sure why, but I didn’t say the next words in my mind. The phrase, “it was far away, it won’t happen here.” I usually say some variation of that when my kids’ eyes get wide like they did that morning in the car. But I gave them a reassuring smile that I hoped carried the sentiment I was going for. They hopped out and gave me their trademark sign language “I love you” as they walked into the school.
I went about my morning; an aerobics class, a few errands, and then home. I was sitting next to Joe when I got a text from our 14 year old daughter.
“Mom, we are on lockdown. I’m really scared. Do you know what is happening?”
My heart stopped, and sank. Joe and I both frantically began to search social media and news radio and websites. Active shooter at the high school. This is what the consensus seemed to be. I have a daughter in high school but she was at an animation class at a different campus at that time. Soon we discovered that every school in our little town had been locked down, and that dozens upon dozens of cops had swarmed the high school.
Joe texted Howie on his Gabb watch to check in with him. We reached out to Syd, our high schooler at the animation class. They were letting us go pick her up. We had no way to reach our youngest, Audrey, who is the same age as the children who were killed in Nashville the other day. We knew she was safe, but did she? I had forgotten about the conversation we had earlier in the car. Until just then. I felt sick.
Madeline was feeling anxious so I stayed on the line with her, sometimes in silence, as she crouched in the corner of her classroom with her science classmates. I was at least able to tell her that whatever was happening wasn’t actually at her school. They were all just following the procedures they had gone over in their drills so many times.
As we drove to pick up Syd, I noticed on Facebook that it had all been confirmed as a hoax, one that had been carried out all over Utah yesterday. Later we learned that the high school had been evacuated and swept by teams with tactical gear and weapons. Those students waited on the cold football field for a long time, due to some sick prank call.
Eventually the schools were cleared, the high school students dismissed from the rest of the school day, and my other kids granted permission to get picked up if they wanted. Joe went to get everyone. My three girls came home. Howie wanted to stay at school. When he got home later, he described his day. I’m impressed at how the schools could quickly snap into action. I’d like to think it would have saved some lives if this had been real. Who knows? Despite the Herculean efforts of the staff to keep everyone calm and distracted from the horrific absurdity of what was happening, some kids were scared. Some cried. I mean, there were dudes in camo with big guns strapped all over their bodies, hanging out at the front desk. Howie had stashed the candy that teachers had given him to cheer him up, and he ended up giving it out to other kids he encountered throughout the rest of the day when he saw someone crying or shaken up. I also noticed later that during lockdown he texted his sisters, and Joe and me, and the one friend he has in his contacts on his watch, all with the same message. “I love you.”
I had a good talk with all of my kids. We talked about how it’s okay to be scared even if it turned out to be fake. My older girls asked questions about guns. I was wishing my elected representatives could be forced to look them in the eyes and answer their sincere, tear filled questions about guns. I have my doubts that it would make a difference. Sometimes I really feel like all politicians’ hearts have just been replaced with a glass figurine in the shape of a pig, with a slot in the top where the money goes. You heard me.
I know it’s a complicated issue. It’s naive of me but I think it is so complicated that it’s actually quite likely that if all sides could talk about it as fellow humans, we’d realize we might agree on quite a few things regarding permits, background checks, the list goes on. It seems like there could be a variety of things that could help. But we can only see it as black and white, because that’s what the TV cameras like. That’s what gets the big bucks. The way kings are made. What’s a few dead children here or there? It happens. Thoughts and prayers.
Is that really who we are? The answer to what we could do to help fix this; is it really nothing? What are all the drills and hoaxes and hey, actual shootings right before their eyes; what is all of that doing to our kids?
Later that day Audrey went to a tumbling class and I went to watch Howie play soccer in the bitter cold. And the news stations were talking about the springtime snowy weather, or some other trivial thing or another. It all just ended up being another day in America.
Howie has been trying to learn the ukulele and we looked up some songs with three chords after he had gotten ready for bed.
“How about Three Little Birds by Bob Marley?” I asked.
I played it for him. He loved it. We started singing it together and playing it a little. I didn’t even mean to pick the song for any other reason than the ease of the song, but that moment was healing me. Maybe the words, “Every little thing is gonna be alright”, were a lie, just like the one I almost told him that morning, about bad things only happening far away. But I watched four little birds, my kids, handle one repulsively weird day, and they pretty much nailed it. I’m angry and sad that they had to. And also filled with hope for the future they will shape. I hugged each of them extra tightly before they went to sleep.