Saturday, February 5, 2011

Fear & Relief

Yesterday I pulled up to the school to get Ava, the same as I do everyday, but this wasn't the same as every other day. The bell rang, and the doors didn't open. A minute went by. The parents hovering near Ava's door vanished. Not a single child came outside to the buses, waiting behind me, lined up in their neat row.

I felt the tingle start in my scalp and move down my back toward my feet; the kind of goosebumps which develop when you know something is wrong. I stepped out of my van, noticing that it was now three minutes past dismissal, and not a single elementary or high school child was outside.

A parent, not anyone I know, approached me and said, "Did you not get a call about what happened?" In that moment my blood ran cold. The temperature literally changed in my body, and I knew the kind of fear that one hopes never to experience. I shook my head, unable to form a reasonable thought, and he continued, "Some guy tried to grab a kid, and they locked down both schools. You'll have to go in the front doors to your kid's classroom."

He continued talking, something about how his kid had called on his cell phone to tell him, but I was hurrying to hustle William out of his booster seat. I needed to be in my daughter's school, to see her with my own eyes and know that she was safe, and to get to her as fast as possible. I needed proof that it was all going to be okay.

It seemed like the longest walk from my van to the front door of the school. I was wearing slip-on runners, and my socks were soaked from the melting snow, and I was dragging William by the hand, cursing how slow his little legs move. There was a throng of parents now, moving as one to the front doors of the school, and I felt marginally better being in the company of others instead of alone on the back side of the school.

We finally made it inside, and felt the chill which accompanies that hush of lowered voices, calm that is not calm at all, much like the moments in a funeral home before the service begins. I saw teachers and the principal and the school secretary, all at the front doors, providing information to parents who needed direction or had questions. I moved past them, as fast as I could, wanting to get to my girl.

I knew she would be upset, because I was late one day just before Christmas and she was in tears outside of her door waiting for me to pull up, and since then she has developed an anxiety about being left at the school. When I rounded the corner to her classroom, I heard her crying but didn't see her as all of the remaining students were with the teacher in the class.

When I got there she clung to me, relief all over her sodden face, and her body was trembling as I hugged her close. Her teacher had been holding her, and I was initially embarrassed that Ava was the only kid crying, but then grateful for the care and concern of her teacher. There was a general tension hovering in the air, and although I had no grasp of the details at that point, I could sense that it had been a tough day for everyone.

I calmed Ava down, reassuring her that I would always come for her, walking through fire if that's what was required to reach her. When her shuddering gasps slowed down, we walked out of the school, the three of us holding hands, and we were all shaken up. In the van, I pulled out the letter from the school and read about the lockdown procedures in both schools after the attempted abduction of a junior high student at 12:30 pm on the way back to the school from lunch.

We tend to feel safe in our small town, and we moved here because we didn't like the noise, traffic and violence of the big city. We wanted to know our neighbours and feel more involved in our community, and we got all of those things by living here. This kind of terror was not expected, by any of us, but thankfully our school has lockdown procedures in place, and had practiced them, and they were ready for such a crisis.

The child got away, unharmed, gave a physical description of the person and the vehicle, and reported it as soon as it happened. There was a happy ending for everyone, but I don't know if I've ever experienced that kind of fear in my life to this point, or the sheer volume of relief when I held Ava and saw that she was safe, and realized that all of the other kids were safe too.

Our world is a dangerous place. All we can do is the best that we can to provide for our own safety and for our loved ones, and leave the rest to God. Some days I have plenty of faith in this process, and other days I have very little. It's my job to shepherd my kids through their fears, and to help them live in the world with as little fear as possible. All we can do is our best. I was grateful yesterday, for safety, and for community, and for the fact that we are all in this together.

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