At my 13-year-old’s school, phones are supposed to stay in backpacks or lockers unless there’s an emergency. So I’m surprised and a little alarmed to see several texts from her at 11:40 in the morning, even before I see why she sent them.

the police are here
there are rumors that there’s a shooting threat
we’re in shelter lockdown

I’ve had nightmares that begin with texts like this. Part of being a parent of school-age children in America. It’s all too easy to believe her messages, yet even after I read them two, three times, I can’t accept what they could mean. My fingers start typing a response before my brain can catch up.

we love you. it’s going to be okay.

I don’t know if it’s going to be okay. I do know the rumor of a threat isn’t the same thing as a credible threat. But for us at this moment it might as well be—we have no idea what’s happening; we aren’t sure whether the threat is real or a hoax; we cannot know whether anyone is in danger. Right now, all we know is that this isn’t a drill.

stay safe and listen to your teacher.

I try to recall her schedule—is she in science or Spanish class? Is she with a teacher she trusts? Has she seen anything, heard anything, or is she just waiting for something to happen in the silence of her locked classroom? I picture her hunkered down with frightened classmates, all of them still coping with the many annoyances and anxieties of attending school during a pandemic, now texting their worried parents with phones they are usually forbidden to use on campus. For years, they have been told what to do in this exact scenario. I’ve seen my child remain calm and steady through many stressful situations, especially over the last two years—but a possible shooting threat and lockdown at her middle school? How can she feel anything but terrified?

text us any updates if you want—also okay if you can’t.
we’re right here.

I’m desperate for more information, but I don’t want to bombard her with questions she has no answers to, or say anything that could frighten her more. I try to think of something else to type, something that could reassure her—I’m her mother, I should be able to do that much. But the truth is that there’s nothing I can say, nothing at all, to make any of this better. It shouldn’t be happening. She shouldn’t have to be afraid for herself, for her friends and teachers, in their school.

When I call the school and get no answer, I think about driving over there, finding her, and bringing her home. I could be there in seven minutes. I should be with her. But as I reach for my keys, I remember that no one will let me in during a lockdown. My presence could make a tense situation worse for those charged with keeping my child and others safe. Though it feels terribly wrong, I am already doing the only thing I can: watching my phone, waiting for her to text and tell me that she’s okay.

*

I was in high school when Thurston and Columbine happened, which means I was in high school before it occurred to me that I could be shot in my school. This knowledge is something that American schoolkids of all ages live with now. My 13-year-old has been participating in shooter drills since she was 3 years old—though when she was younger, her teachers couched them in vague, less frightening terms. I remember the day she came home from preschool and told me, “We practiced what to do in case someone is in the school who shouldn’t be.” She described her teacher locking the doors, turning off the lights, and herding all the students into a small bathroom, where they were told to sit still and stay “very, very quiet.” “It was hard. We weren’t very quiet,” she admitted.

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