Code Red, she said

734554_10151441014672177_28942575_nNope, I don’t think it’s any coincidence whatsoever that the same week we learn the details of Adam Lanza’s bedroom arsenal, teachers organized a practice “Code Red” drill in my children’s K-5 school.

It’s a damned reminder – we needed more? – that even as the U.S. Congress backs away, quickly and quietly, from bans on assault-weapons and high-capacity magazines, we can’t let them.

My daughter talked about the Code Red casually, at first.

“Mom, we had one at school today.”

“One what?” I ask.

“One Code Red Drill.”

I know what this is, but I play it off like I don’t. I want to hear her most authentic description of what this means, how a Code Red unfolds.

“It’s where we practice being safe if a robber or another kind of bad person comes into our school.”

How sweet and age-appropriate that she thinks one of the worst things that could happen to her school is a “robber.” How very Brothers Grimm of her. How wrong.

I ask her what they do, how they do it. She says they hide in the classroom and lock the door. Teachers remind the kids – in two languages – to be quiet. Then they wait. I think, for my daughter, this is the hardest part.

“Mom, me and my teachers were scared because upstairs,” she pauses here for a moment; she is a verbal child: “We heard people moving.”

I don’t think her teachers were scared. They knew this was practice. But the need to identify must be strong in these situations, especially when you’re young and you’re not with your family and somewhere in the back of your mind you know, as my daughter does, that robbers are not a child’s worst nightmare. She continues to relay the events in her own words.

“Yeah, and somebody, they tried our doorknob. They were checking. But they shouldn’t have done that. Nobody should be walking around during a Code Red.”

“Probably,” I say, “they were just making sure everybody followed all the Code Red safety rules. In a practice Code Red, you have to walk around and make sure all those important safety rules are being followed.”

“But what if it was real, mom?”

I glance in the rear-view window. The boys are in their usual bookworm pose, bent over paperbacks. But her eyes are round and brown, focused on me, waiting for an answer.

“It wasn’t real, Child. These things barely happen. Once every 20 years, maybe. And people, like your teachers, work very hard to keep things as safe as possible.”

I tell her that we practiced fire drills and tornado drills every year of my K-12 life. I never saw either one of them. I do not tell her there have been 31 school shootings in America since 1999.

Things get quiet in the middle row of my minivan. I’m lost in my head. I’ve said too much, she knows too much, I’m terrified, I blew this, my heart’s beating faster, I’m confused. Mostly I’m sad. A second later, it’s clear that my daughter, at least, remains thoughtful and on topic.

“Well mom, I don’t think anyone would do that to our school, because I think people know public schools are very important.”

You know that I did not tell her Sandy Hook Elementary was a public school. That in our home state of Wisconsin, public schools have been defunded to the point of poverty. I would never tell her the nasty, racist, grossly ignorant and inaccurate things people write about me – or anyone in my town – when we write a pro-public school op-ed.

“Right,” and this time my smile is real. “Lots of people know how important all our schools are. But you know that public schools are my favorite.”

In Sandy Hook there was an art teacher, a music room, a gym teacher, classroom teachers and, we know, an incredibly brave, bold and brilliant, fast thinking principal in the building that day. I do not know know what the child to teacher ratio in their school was that day. But it’s clear to us that every adult in that school was an absolute hero, that they all came together to save every single life they could. That they paid with their own lives – six of them.

Sandy Hook sounds like a well-funded public school. Thank God. Every adult in the building was needed that day. Every day. But especially on Dec. 14, 2012.

My kids’ school is not a well-funded school. But it’s vibrant and multicultural and successful. My three kids have never received formal music instruction there. The full-time art teacher was budget-cutted out two years ago. Language, math and writing emphases, and a reputation for one of the strongest and most stable teacher corps in our area are enough to keep us there. Maybe we can find room for music elsewhere in their lives.

My kids’ public school is very important to me. So is gun control. So are the Second Amendment and all the other amendments – some more than others. But 1,000+ rounds in a boy’s bedroom, an arsenal in his Honda Civic, 20 children and six teachers dead, armed guards in every school when states like mine tell us we can’t afford to keep our teachers? That math is not fuzzy, it is devastating.


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