Yesterday, about 4:30 p.m., I got an automated message from the Superintendent of Schools in our district. Her voice chirped that there had been an anonymous note delivered to police that threatened elementary schools in our area.
I could feel my face blanch and then grow instantly hot as two, tiny, imaginary hands squeezed the backs of my eye sockets making my vision blur.
The message said there would be an increased police presence in the schools, and everyone’s safety would be assured.
My seven-year-old-son, Jack, is in second grade.
I ranted a little about oh the humanity! around the water cooler, then finished my work day and went home.
Everyone was there, safe and sound, bickering about not wanting to take showers or eat tater tots and who would get the last cider donut. My husband and I gave each other knowing looks, but didn’t talk about any of this news in front of the children.
At this point, there is just too much unknown. We don’t know what the note said, or where it came from, or why it was sent. My mind could make up a billion different scenarios, each equally terrifying. Anyone who knows me, knows I tend to be anxious (at best) and downright neurotic (at worst). So, it is a constant challenge to stop my brain from “going there.”
Many parents have reacted in fear. Local news websites are flooded with people making threats to “get a piece of ’em,” and “this is why the stinking liberals should let us have our guns”, and “there is no way in hell we are sending our kids to school”.
It is a mob mentality I understand, but in which I do not want to take part.
Everyday, I take an existential leap when I leave the house in the morning. Everyday, I walk a tightrope of faith that everything will be okay when I kiss my son and put him onto the bus. Everyday, I willingly and blindly trust fall into a suspension of reality when I watch my daughter drive off with my husband. I do it, for the most part, without fear. I leap, in fact, without even thinking about it. My legs bend and spring out of pure muscle memory.
I’ve often shared with people that during the month before I went back to work after my maternity leave with Jack, I cried every night until my face looked deformed. The unbearable sense of leaving him drove me nearly insane, but in the end, I went back to work. I could do it only by telling myself, “this is what responsible moms do.”
In other difficult situations, I’ve gotten through it by thinking I’m doing the “right” or “responsible” thing as a mom, as a decent human, as a worker, as a wife, as a part of a family.
What is the “right and responsible” thing to do in this situation? Do I send him to school and assume that risk, or do I indulge in the culture of fear and keep him home.
This morning, I asked my husband, “Is it okay to feel scared about this?” His yes was resounding. My husband is not an alarmist, still I wondered. It is like my fear sensors are out of whack and I am not certain what is actually scary or threatening to me and mine. I believe this comes from living in a culture of fear, where every minor accident and robbery is broadcast on every news channel, and where gratuitous violence and gore is glorified on TV and movies.
It is really hard to stay centered in this kind of situation, to be mindful and to not hop on board the bus of mob mentality which drives the perpetuation of anger, hate, and aggression.
Don’t get me wrong, I respect any parent who kept their child home in light of these “threats,” but my husband and I decided to send Jack to school, as per usual.
A couple things factored into our decision.
My husband pointed out that, probably, the next few days will be the most safe for the children, as security measures are increased. “Whoever did this may be watching to see what the schools do,” my husband pointed out. That is the scary part to me. There are just so many unanswered questions.
I also thought about the general safety or danger of the world. If I keep my son home from school today, where does it end? Do I never take him to the mall because it could be attacked? Do I never let him go to school again and homeschool? Do I never take him outside to play for fear the sky could fall on us?
As a clinical social worker who works in a very high risk community, I am aware of dangers visited upon children. If not for maintaining a mindful view of all the goodness that balances the world, I would live in perpetual and paralyzing terror. Being informed and educated is different in my mind than getting swept away by all the fear of the unknown. Again, for someone who struggles with situational and anticipatory anxiety, this is easier said than done. It is also a constant struggle not to be overshadowed by the darkness that does exist in the world, and become depressed.
My husband and I weighed all of this, then we talked with our little son. We let him know there would be some changes at school over then next few days as they practiced increased safety, “just in case.” There will be some extra police, and it is important to listen to the teachers and principal and do everything they say. He accepted our comments with a casual complaint about having to endure indoor recess over the next couple days.
His security and calmness was somehow reassuring to me.
In my wildest and worst dreams I never imagined sending a kid to school with all sorts of contingency plans for “just in case.” It sobers and saddens me, but it also makes me realize the insignificance of all the little daily battles like putting on socks, or eating breakfast at the table.
I hugged him extra and kissed him all over before putting him on that bus. My heart squeezed tears up to my eyes, but I blinked them back. Rationally, I know he will be safe. But that little primal place at the back of my brain still senses something I can’t quite name.
It makes me want to ask what the hell kind of world has this become?
Still I leap.
May the power of good always shine brighter than any darkness.
May love always create safety and peace for the ones we love.
May the desire to live in love grow stronger than any that would live in hate and fear.
Breathing in, I accept my fear of violence and the unknown.
Breathing out, I surround myself and all around me with love, and hope, and peace.
How do you stay grounded in the face of fear? What existential leaps will you take today?