Turns out that sneaking into your daughter’s elementary school looking disheveled, with an object clutched to your chest, and breaking into a run down the hallway is a really, really bad idea.
Last week, life was a solid blue-green on the suburban terror index, it was a nothingburger.
This week, slather that dull burger in a coat of screaming code red.
I do not mean to make light of the recent tragedy — I cannot think of it for a second without welling up and feeling helpless. I do not mean to poke fun of our growing fear for safety in public places. I am merely casting light on my total lack of forethought earlier this week. After recounting the story dozens of times in the last few days, I recast my role from bumbling doofus to undercover security evaluator. So there’s that.
My story starts as many do, with a solid excuse: I was tired and in a hurry.
My modus operandi was to hurry to the school to deliver my daughter’s water bottle, which had the misfortune of tumbling out of her backpack at the bus stop. It’s been a rough few weeks around here, with me working a little more than usual, the holiday stuff that adds layers of duty and stress to everything, and extra homework projects to keep my daughter up too late each night. Twice in the last two weeks she’s forgotten her water bottle. Just the day before there was an unfortunate sock choice that led to tears and frustration before school. I just wanted a good day free from glitches.
I just wanted a good day.
I arrived at the quiet building, before it bustled with the energy of young students, to find administrators and support staff standing stiff with their heavy duty at the main entrance. Clutching the bottle, I ducked and ran. Not for long. As I bolted to get to her locker (This is more about me not wanting to be seen in public in glorified PJs and a knit hat than anything else.) I stepped over some invisible sensor, triggering a few moments of alarm and embarrassment.
Within seconds the front-door crew shouted “Hey! Hey! HEY!” and ran after me. I felt a hand hook my arm. It was the school principal, his brow crinkled in consternation.
“What are you doing?” he asked, gently but firmly.
“Don’t you watch the news? Don’t you know what’s happening?” said one of the hall monitors, with a hint of shrill.
“I, uh, my daughter dropped her water bottle at the bus stop,” I said breathlessly, noticing them gather around me. I felt like a criminal. My entire psyche wilted in humiliation.
“I just wanted to put it in her locker. I’m in a hurry,” I said.
“Didn’t you read the district newsletter?” the hall monitor asked again, taking the bottle from my hands and turning it over to find a name label. “No one is allowed in the building without a pass from the office.”
“No, I mean, yes, I know what you are talking about but I thought ….”
“Water bottles should be labeled,” monitor said. Another admonishment. Should I just bend over and wait for the spanking?
The moment was over. I gave them my daughter’s name and room number and skulked out the door. I was not a gun-toting madwoman, just a frazzled mother with an overly tired daughter and a raging case of mommy guilt.
Just a week earlier I’d strolled right into the building before morning bell as I helped my girl carry her special project to her classroom. Just a week ago, we had school security, but moods were light and breezy. The very same people smiled and waved at me.
Everyone said they were glad to know the school was taking security seriously, even if it was at my expense. I guess I feel good about that part of it.
What I don’t feel good about is the rising paranoia and fear and the idea that more weaponry will make us safer. Each morning at the bus stop, parents talk of homeschooling, of pulling their kids out early before holiday break, of a renewed fear of what might happen on Dec. 21. War zones are stocked with guns and weapons. They are not safe places. What I don’t feel good about is a society in which one false move, one lapse in judgment puts you and me and anyone else under suspicion for plots and evil deeds. Although it may be necessary, making school entrances as tight as airports makes me very sad.
At times like these I feel very old. As cliché as it sounds, I long for the simpler times of my childhood.