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Today I was sitting in the library of my daughter’s school while her class learned about alphabetizing. I had just spent an hour in the classroom reading with struggling students, and hadn’t left yet because Zoe wanted me to spend a little more time with her.

Then he principal came on the PA and announced that teachers and staff should implement the lockdown procedure, emphasizing “this is not a drill.”

Five words you never want to hear.

Zoe’s teacher, demonstrating admirable calm, led the class into the nearby teacher’s lounge since the library is a large open space, as is their classroom. Everyone sat on the floor and she closed and locked the door and turned off the lights. I held Zoe’s hand. A few kids asked what was going on. They are savvy enough to know “this is not a drill” is not good. Zoe’s teacher kindly asked them to be quiet.

Immediately I wondered what I was going to have to do if there were a shooter. How would I help protect the kids? What if I had to confront a gunman? What if I had to throw myself in front of Zoe and her classmates to try to save them. I was so thankful I was there with Zoe but also terrified about what it might mean.

A few minutes later the principal’s voice came on again saying we did not have to lock down, but we did need to shelter in place, and that no one would leave the building and we should limit our movements if possible. Whatever that means for a building full of hundreds of kids. Zoe’s teacher took that to mean we would continue with the day as best we could, so we returned to the library and our lesson on alphabetizing, and then the kids browsed for and checked out books. A few of them asked me and the teacher what was going on and if there was a bad guy outside. The teacher said if there was a bad guy, he was far away from us, and we were just being extra careful. None of the kids seemed extremely upset. Zoe said later that she was really scared, and we held hands pretty tightly, but they seemed to get on with things. Zoe did tell me that she hoped Zeke was ok, and she was afraid someone would shoot him. I assured her that he was fine at day care and no one would shoot him. One of Zoe’s friends told her that her dad is a lawyer and used to be a police officer, and somehow he would make everything ok.

After the library, back in the classroom Zoe’s teacher read a few pages of a Junie B. Jones book and talked about realistic characters. Meanwhile, I was searching my phone for news about what was going on. The library assistant came over and asked me in a whisper if I had any information. I heard another first grade teacher tell one of her colleagues that 15 schools were on lockdown.

I appreciated and admired the ability of all the teachers and staff to remain totally together and seemingly normal during all this. Clearly that was what was best for the kids. It was helpful to me too.

Then it was time to head to the computer lab. By this point I was just trying to make myself useful since I couldn’t go anywhere. I went around to help kids figure out which math games they were supposed to be playing, closing errant windows and plugging in stray headphones. I gave people permission to use the bathroom and reminded students when they dropped their coats.

I had heard from Randy via text that news outlets had reported the school lockdowns were lifted–although they had never listed Arlington schools as affected, only Alexandria, while I knew that wasn’t accurate. About 20 minutes after Randy’s report, the principal said dismissal would proceed as usual. I stayed on in the computer lab until it was time to go, and decided to bring Zoe home instead of leaving her there to go to extended day.

The cause of all this was a shooting in a neighborhood a few miles from the school. A man shot two women in a home. One has since died. There is no information about motive or whether the suspect is still at large. I assume the police decided it was an isolated incident and the man was unlikely to roam around to nearby schools to keep shooting.

Regardless, there are shootings every day in this country. In schools, shopping malls, movie theaters. There is no sense that you could do anything to absolutely stay safe and protect your family. And I feel like there is nothing we can do. The NRA is so powerful in our country that Congress seems afraid to pass any kind of meaningful gun control. And so there are shootings every day. I feel completely powerless and hopeless. Should I write letters to someone? Who? Would it matter? I realize there are far more dangerous countries than the US, but I feel like the danger level here is rising dramatically for no reason. There is no war going on here. But there is more violence than we can handle.

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