TABLE OF CONTENTS
Chapter 1: How to decide whether or not to send your children to school during a targeted terror threat to their school……….. Page ????
Chapter 2: How to handle the fear and anxiety that has now consumed your household……Page ?????
Did you ever just have one of those really bad days? The kind of day where nothing seems to go right, the kind of day that’s taking place in an already bad week?
I think we all have.
Last Tuesday was that day for me. I’ve been sick, we’ve all been fighting something as the season changes. I was tired, and it just seemed like it was one little thing after the next, all little inconveniences and annoyances all day long on my deadline day, exhausting me. I had a long night ahead too, as it was going to be a late night for my husband as well, due to a night time event at school.
It was our anniversary to boot, 19 years.
Earlier that week, I’d turned down an invitation to a home party at a friend’s for that night, stating at the time that I couldn’t attend because we have a rule here, given the fact that we both have night time obligations for our jobs: whenever one of us is out for work at night, the other of us is in, unless there’s an unusual exception, like a wake. One of us is always here to be “the one” running homework, dinner, showers, drop off and pick up at after school activities, sports and events. So since he’d be out on this night, I’d be in.
I’m incredibly glad we have that rule.
That afternoon, I picked up my younger kids at school, and just before they exited the building, I received some very sad news. Another parent, the parent of one of my kids’ classmates, had passed away unexpectedly and tragically in an accident, just the day before. I was stunned, and I had a pit in my stomach knowing I’d have to tell my middle daughter, to tell all of them, when we got home before it got out on social media and she heard it from someone other than me.
I cried as I told her, but I was thankful that it was me telling her, thankful I was there after school to be “the one.”
“That was awful,” I thought to myself, as I drove her to her after school activity later on. My mind was overrun with thoughts of her friend’s mom, a mother of three boys, similar in ages to my three girls, and what she must be going through right then, reeling from the unexpected death of her husband. I was devastated for her.
I dropped my daughter off and ran to the store to pick up a couple of quick things: yogurt, some rice pudding cups (my guilty ‘processed food treat’ for those late nights of typing on a deadline) and juice. I’d only be gone from home about 30 minutes total and my oldest was there doing homework with my youngest at the dining room table, more than capable of holding down the fort while I ran out.
In line at the register, my phone rang. “Home” it said, as I was swiping my card. I picked up. “Let me call you right back, I’m paying,” I said quickly. “Um….okay,” I heard her say.
I wondered what was up. Homework issue, I figured.
I walked out of the store, my bag under my arm as I dialed again, calling her back.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“Something’s going on,” she said. “We got a call. I didn’t pick up but it played out loud on the machine. The superintendent of schools was on the line. I tried to cover Alex’s ears once I realized what they were saying, but it was too late.”
I was confused. This wasn’t what I’d been expecting her to say and I wasn’t processing all of of it. I heard her say things like threat, and danger and elementary schools, and name our city and the other two cities nearby, which are coincidentally two out of three cities in which I cover all of the school news for the city newspapers. I was trying not to panic as I tried to figure out what was going on.
For a split second, I felt that same fear I’d felt on 9/11 when I was far away from my daughter while at work, as the towers were hit, and I couldn’t get to her. I had that moment of panic come right back to me, a feeling I’d never wanted to feel again, and yet here it was, bubbling up inside of me. Luckily I was minutes away. I could be there almost instantly to see what was going on.
I quickly used my phone to get on the internet to see if I could make heads or tails of what had happened. Everyone was posting on social media that they’d gotten the same robo call. Panic was setting in everywhere, everyone was reacting to the news.
Essentially the news was this:
Someone had sent a letter to the police department of one of our neighboring cities threatening danger and harm at the elementary schools in that city, our city, and our other neighboring city sometime over the next three days. (That’s more than 25 elementary schools. There’s 17 in our city alone.) The police department had shared the letter with the authorities in the other two cities and the authorities had let the schools know, the school department was letting us know. We weren’t told exactly what the threat of harm was specifically, but it was enough of a “physical threat” that they were reacting big time and taking the threat quite seriously. Police would be dispatched to all of our schools in all three cities for the next three days. School would remain in session. You can click here to see the news.
This was turning into a really, incredibly, very bad day.
I got home, my rice pudding had now exploded in my bag. Seeing that, I truly wanted to cry. I listened to the message on our answering machine myself, hearing all the things my daughter had told me, all the things I’d read online. Threat, physical harm, danger, police, security. Three days. The words all jumped out at me.
Social media was on over-drive. My oldest daughter, brand new this year to her open campus, five building high school, was getting messages, as was I.
“What do we do? Do we go to school tomorrow?” she asked me, panicked. “If something happens there, I don’t know what to do, where to go. We’ve only had one lock down drill in one class. I’d be all alone, while they would be together,” she said. By “they,” she meant her two sisters, together on the same hallway at their school.
“I don’t know,” I said.
I messaged my husband, an elementary principal at a nearby school district not one of the three on the target list. “Please call me,” I said.
I gave him the low-down when he called. He had no idea yet that this was going on, but soon it’d be affecting his job in his school district as well, as fear began to set in across the state.
We spoke briefly, agreeing to wait to see how things transpired through the evening before deciding what to do about school the next day. By the time he was due home later on, we might know more.
I ran to get my daughter where I’d dropped her two hours earlier, shortly after giving her the terrible news about her classmate’s dad at 3pm. I knew I’d now have to tell her this news as well. Her sisters knew, it was all over social media, she’d get a message or text, I was sure of it.
And then it hit me, “WHERE in the parenting books is THIS page? Where does it tell you how to deal with THIS situation?”
I called my mother on the way to get my daughter.
“I’m having a really bad day,” I said, near tears.
My daughter and I exited the building and got into the car. I thought of the best way to give her this news. At school that same day, she’d been stressed over the recent changes to the lunch and recess schedules which were new, due to incorporating hand washing and the dispensing of Purell before and after because of the recent deaths in our state and a nearby state due to the Enterovirus D68. They’d been hearing all about the Ebola outbreaks in the news. I’d just delivered some other tough news at 3:00 about her friend’s dad, I knew this could potentially put her over the edge.
When I told her, she gasped.
“Why? Why would someone do that? What kind of harm? What did they say they’re going to do? Where?” she said, grappling with the news.
“I don’t know,” was really all I could say.
For the next three hours, my head hurt as I tried to go about the normalcy of our day, making and serving dinner, answering homework questions, and cleaning up after dinner. I fielded questions to which I had no answers and tried to keep their panic at bay, all the while trying to think in my head what the best thing was to do for the next day as I waited for my husband to walk through the door so we could finally talk things through together.
Our phone rang. Had I heard the news? What was our family going to do? What did I think others should do?
“I don’t know,” I just kept saying, over and over.
I watched the hundreds of responses posting on Facebook as moms and dads were at their own houses struggling with the same issues: to tell their kids or not. How much to tell? Send them to school or not? If not, for how many days? This threat was spread over three days’ time. Do we keep them home for three days? How do you transition a kid back to school after an event like this has transpired? We heard from a mom in Newtown, CT., from Sandy Hook Elementary School, who passed along her compassion and empathy as a parent who knew exactly what we were going through, and then some.
And again I wondered, where is the instruction manual for things like this? What page in the dozens of parenting books I’d had as a new mom does this topic appear on?
We have a sign in our house over the front door. It’s the last thing you see as you step out, and it says, “Home is where your story begins.” It’s a sign I’ve always loved because in my head, I picture all of the wonderful things we do as a family, the story we write as a family and all of the memories we make together before stepping out the door each day to write our own stories as individuals.
But today…today I think it has even more meaning than that. I think it’s more than just the happy, wonderful family memories that we create. I think our family’s story includes the pages we write together in our own rule book, our own parenting guide. It’s the things we encounter, conquer and the previously unwritten rules that we write as a family unit.
Last week, every family had to make their own decisions as to what was best for their kids, how to have these tough conversations and make these tough decisions. There was no right or wrong answer and no rule book or parenting manual to help us. We had to rely on what we knew for information and what we knew about our own children, in order to make the best decisions for them. We were told by our elementary principal that every decision made was the right one, and he was right.
We just had to come up with our decision.
Finally, finally, finally, my husband arrived home. My middle daughter almost jumped out of her skin when our front door opened. I reassured her that it was okay, it was just her dad coming home. We talked it out and made our decision together.
Ultimately, we opted to keep them home for the day. Although statistically and logically we knew the chances of anything happening were probably slim, we didn’t have a ton of information or really any reassurances that all was safe and well, and at the time, we didn’t know what specifically had been threatened, although we do now. But, more than that, we looked at our kids and into their eyes. We saw the fear, the panic and the stress. We saw how they looked at us, begging and pleading not to make them go. We weighed out whether throwing them out there into an uncertain situation was worth the risk of traumatizing them further. It wasn’t. To have them be one of three kids in class that next day, or the only kids on the empty bus that next day, to make them struggle through a day of fear and anxiety while they watched movies and played games all day at school, just to prove a point (what point?) was not worth any added trauma and anxiety for them or for us. Instead, we opted to give them a day to take the edge off, to relax, to breathe a little easier knowing they were safe and secure at home with me.
I felt my middle daughter’s body shake as she cried herself to sleep that night as I lay next to her at her request, something I rarely have to do anymore, and I knew we’d made the right decision. On Friday, when I picked up my younger two girls at school, I saw the complete and utter exhaustion on the faces of the teachers, as the emotional strain of the week showed through, and even then, as I saw the effect of the past four days on the adults, I again knew we had made the right decision for our children. My heart swelled with gratitude for those teachers who came to school for our kids every day last week, putting aside their own safety and the well-being of their own families in order to be there for our children because that’s what was best for our kids.
With no rule book to guide any of us, our family has written a new page in our family story. It wasn’t a page I ever wanted to write or a page I ever want to write again, but there it is.
I’ll be glad to be able to close the book on this chapter. I know our book will be full of good pages and bad, happy chapters and sad. This isn’t over, I know that, and these awful things are part of the world we live in, whether it’s a school, movie theater, mall, airport or restaurant. I get that too. I guess ultimately, as long as we’re all here writing our story together, I think that’s all that matters.