We were always warned beforehand that it was coming. We knew the code, and we knew what to do when it came over the speakerphone. But even when we had pre-emptive information, it didn’t stop the chills that raced through me at the word ”thumbtacks.” My two coworkers and I had to do three things. Turn off the lights. Shut the blinds. And corral ten to twelve babies behind a half wall and huddle in the semi-gray as protection against an active shooter.
Yes, you read that right. I rehearsed how to protect babies in a daycare from a killer. Unthinkable? Quite. Surprising? Not anymore.
Now, if you’ve ever met a baby, you know they are notoriously easy to keep quiet and have absolutely no problem with their routines being altered. So we’d sit there, partially hidden, some babies in their assigned cribs, some in our arms, and we would wait in bone breaking semi-silence for the all-clear to sound. We would hush. We would rock. And we would wait.
Two or three minutes is a really long time, even when you know the thing you’re preparing for is simulated. During that time, you think about a lot of things. How will I get these babies out of here? Where will I go? We can take them outside, but the fences around the playground are locked and high and we’ll be trapped. Easy and plentiful targets.
You think about the impossible choices you’d have to make, which babies you’d elect to save. If you’d have the courage to die at work. Every day, parents trusted their most precious children to us. We kept them safe and happy and healthy. That was our job. But I often thought about what I’d have to do with my own body to shield theirs. To hope that maybe I’d protect a few of them. What about the rest?
It seems we always did those drills on sunny days. Despite the closed blinds, sunlight poured into the big windows in that corner room. A spotlight. Here they are. Despite the lights being turned off, the large window in the door, which allowed anyone in the hall to see in, offered exactly no obstruction. The room we were in was the first a killer would reach if they got through the vestibule. The galley kitchen connecting to the older infant room provided an easy gateway to the next group of little ones. If we were first, they would be next.
And as you wait, you look across the way at a mother, who happens to be in the room dropping off her eleven-month-old and who is now crouching with you, and you wonder what she’s thinking. Is it enough? Does this seem like an adequate response? Does she feel safe? Her face is drawn and her baby is in her lap and you’ll never know and you never want to ask.
If your imagination is open enough to receive even more horror, you think about the aftermath, which is rarely mentioned because there’s always another mass casualty incident coming with no space to grieve the last. Maybe it’ll happen tomorrow. Maybe by the weekend. You imagine parents in the lot, panicked, emergency vehicles clogging the road, news cameras surrounding the perimeter. You think of the other daycare right next door, whose occupants got lucky that day. You think about what comes after. What the place would look like riddled with bullet holes and soaked in blood. Coworkers and children, gone. Memories, tarnished. Lives, destroyed. How you’d ever go back. When the waking nightmares would stop.
Time lurches on, and you think about why you’re doing this. You think about the children at Sandy Hook, massacred in their classrooms by a man who churned with a rage and pain so corrosive and white hot he would choose to make that horrific act his last. How you were quietly discussing it among your peers the next day, how awful, how tragic, how could we let this happen? The harrowing moment when the owner quietly said, I guess we should practice for this.
Because that’s how it is, isn’t it? It’s a scenario no one wants to imagine, but now we have to, because this is the reality we’ve chosen for ourselves. These are the consequences we have decided are acceptable. You, as a citizen, at work, at school, at a grocery store or movie theater or concert venue or nightclub or outdoor festival or fair or church or temple or mosque must sacrifice yourself for the gun we deserve to have. Nobody is coming to save you.
A moment, maybe two, after news breaks, here they come with statements regurgitated so often the ones they said at the last shooting are barely a few days old. Let’s not politicize (Except that I am). It’s not an AR-15 (As if it matters). It’s a mental health problem (Like we’d do anything about that anyway). Here are my thoughts, here are my prayers (And that’s all I got because doing something would take courage and I am bankrupt). They’re in positions of power, they are hiding behind avatars on the internet, they are people I know and love. The conclusion?
There’s nothing we can do about this. Sorry. You’re just not important enough for us to care.
Yesterday, when my eyes passed across a headline that I’ve read so many times, I remembered those beams of light streaming through the window, of sitting in the dark waiting for ”thumbtacks” to be said again, so we’d know it was over. So we could move on and stop thinking about the babies in our care being murdered. So we could stop thinking about our own grisly demise.
Wondering why they used the word “thumbtacks?” Because you aren’t allowed to have those in a daycare.
Weapons of war?
That’s a subject for debate.
Children are dead, but at least the guns are okay, right? In fact, we should have more, just in case, is how I understand it. A lot of people have decided you’re a sacrifice they’re willing to make, and frankly, I’m tired of grieving this way, and I didn’t want to write this either, but I didn’t know what else to do.
So here I am. Here we are.