The New Normal
I live on Block Island, R.I., one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. In the winter, the town is almost completely asleep, hibernating, but there is a post office, a supermarket and a wonderful school. We have chosen to spend a year or two here as we transition from city living to something a little more relaxed, where we don’t have to work so hard and be so busy. We moved from Brooklyn, N.Y., last year, one year after the Newtown, Conn., shooting. Our children were young enough that I did not have to tell them about it, and they remained mercifully innocent, something I was grateful for.
After Newtown, I remember a tightening of security at our public school in Brooklyn, the presence of police. But not much else changed. For a few days I had anxiety about sending my children into the building, as I am sure many parents had. Conversations were had about whether any tightening of school security could stop a determined madman with a gun. No one was sure what to do. So we all did what we always do – we simply returned to the routines of our lives, and hoped that such a tragedy would never happen here, to us, to our children.
However, the shooting at Newtown touched a chord with me as a mother and a human being, and I could no longer wait for other people to change this path our country was on, where mass shootings are now daily news. I knew that there would be other gun deaths, other innocent people shot at schools, in malls, at movies – plenty of opportunities to have to explain the regular outbursts of mass violence to our children.
In fact, my mother was about to go to her local mall in Columbia, Maryland., a few weeks ago when she was kept out by police in the wake of a fatal shooting there.
Since the time of Newtown, as all parents know, they have started having “lock-down drills” in public schools in order to prepare better for such events. This is a wise decision on the part of the school’s administration, a sad reality, but a decision that has undoubtedly led to better response and safety in the wake of other school shootings that have followed.
We can tell a lot about our world by the drills we make our children carry out in schools. In the fifties and sixties, during the cold war, there were the infamous duck-and-cover drills, as if a small desk could offset the blast of a weapon of mass destruction. When I was a child growing up in the Midwest in the 1980s, we had fire drills, and in the spring, tornado drills, where we would seek out some windowless corridor to huddle down in. My children and myself, should I return to public school teaching, will also have to get used to the new “lock-down” drill in the age of mass murders in schools.
For those who don’t know, the school lock-down drill goes something like this: the teachers lock the door to the classroom and go hide in a closet or other small lockable space with the kids. They leave the lights on, and stay silent until the drill is over. My daughter came home from school after one such drill and asked me why they do it, what it means. I mumbled something about safety, but could not bring myself to explain to her that sometimes bad people come into schools and shoot children. We are at the mercy of cultural pressures based on an orthodox interpretation of the Constitution, a national mental health care crisis, and a lack of political will. But I am doing what I can to try to change this.
And to my children: this is the world you have inherited, and we will need your voices, and your solutions. What will my grandchildren’s world look like? Bulletproof school uniforms? Target practice on teachers’ professional development days? Or will we reach a balance between our rights as individuals and our obligations as a society to keep ourselves safe from gun violence? This is a conversation I will have to have with my kids. For now, this is the new normal.