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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.

Today Zoe’s school had a lockdown drill.

They warned parents this would be happening, in a note sent home last week. So I told Zoe there would be a drill, kind of like a fire drill but different. She doesn’t know about what happened in Newtown. She doesn’t need to know. I told her the drill was in case there was an emergency. “Like a hurricane or a tornado?” she asked. “Right,” I said. She doesn’t need to know about shooters or terrorists or bombs.

For her, it’s scary enough to be ushered into the coatroom in your classroom, see your teacher shut and lock the door, and turn off the lights. Being told to sit very quietly and very still in a small pitch black room is pretty scary for a kindergartener, even if you have no idea why you might be having such a drill.

I asked her if she held hands with one of her friends while they sat quietly in the dark coatroom. She said no, because none of her friends were nearby. I asked if the teachers said anything. She said the teacher’s aide said “Shhh…” a few times, and that her teacher whispered periodically that they were doing a good job and there were only a few minutes left.

She said she almost cried, but she didn’t cry, and neither did any of her classmates.

On the way to pick her up from school I was listening to radio coverage of the explosions and casualties at the Boston Marathon. Wondering what kind of a world we live in where marathon runners and spectators are maimed and killed by bombs and where our schools have to practice in case a heavily armed and deeply disturbed person comes along, which no longer seems as unlikely as it used to.

So on the way home from school I asked Zoe if she wanted to learn something to help her be less scared if they had to do another lockdown drill. Of course I also thought or, if, God forbid, you’re actually ever locked down. But I didn’t say that part.

I taught her a modified version of the lovingkindness meditation I learned from Sharon Salzberg in a class Randy and I took years ago at the National Cathedral.

I told her that first she could try to calm herself down by repeating

May I be happy

May I be healthy

May I be safe

May I have peace

as many times as she wanted, in her head, taking deep breaths between phrases. Then I told her she could think of someone she loved, and picture that person, and say to herself

May you be happy

May you be healthy

May you be safe

May you have peace

as many times as she wanted, still taking deep breaths.

Then I suggested she could think of a person she knows but maybe not that well, and do the same for him or her. Then she could expand it to her class, or her school, or any group of people. And finally, she could think of wishing those things for the whole world.

May everyone be happy

May everyone be healthy

May everyone be safe

May everyone have peace

She liked this idea.

She told Randy about it at dinnertime.

We practiced it at bedtime. She sent lovingkindness to her brother still hanging out in my belly. To one of her friends at school. To her teacher. To me.

She seemed so relaxed and peaceful. I felt relaxed and peaceful, despite the horrifying events of today. Despite the stressful day we had yesterday in which many things went very badly and resulted in me feeling incredibly frustrated and disappointed in Zoe. Despite the past few weeks in which there has been a steadily escalating cloud of anxiety enveloping our house. Each of us in our own way has been freaking out to varying degrees on any given day about the imminent arrival of our baby boy.

How can you help but be a little on edge when you know your entire life is about to change irrevocably? Even if it’s changing in a way you’ve longed for for years. A good friend shared her insight that it made sense that we would be mourning the loss of our little three-person family even as we are thrilled for the person who will make it four. For six years we’ve been us and now we have this remarkable little girl who is so spectacular and loving and becoming so independent. And we’re starting over? It seems crazy.

So it’s been tense at times.

Thank goodness for lovingkindness meditation. While we were practicing tonight Zoe observed, “this is kind of like praying,” and I responded that yes, it’s kind of like that. To me it amounts to the same thing.

Amid a sea of uncertainty, I am grateful that I could give her this gift. And that in the process I can remind myself of the power of lovingkindness as well. I can always use the practice.

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