This morning, I put my five year old on the bus for his third day of kindergarten. As it pulled away with his smiling face on it, I found this lump in my throat standing there. A piece of my heart was on that bus. And it was driving away with it.
Dylan is five years old this year. He turned five on December 14, 2012, the very same day that twenty boys and girls got on a bus just like this one to head off to a not so different kindergarten or first grade room and they never came home. This fall, as we send our babies off to school, I’ve got Newtown on my brain.
I can’t help but not think of those eager little faces and families who left a piece of their hearts on a bus that never returned to them. There are so many families with holes in their hearts. As much as I am focused on my child, I am thinking about the space that is left in a world that is a little less full and bright without their children.
On day two of kindergarten, Dylan told me that it was awesome and all because of something that started with a J: Gym class. Indeed, a totally awesome five year old boy response. Then, he told me they practiced something very important called a lockdown drill. They locked the classroom doors and shut off the lights and pulled down the shades and practiced putting their chairs up on top of their desks and crawling and hiding underneath. He told me that if a bad stranger came to his school, that his teacher would protect him and that he would do this. And then a piece of my heart died a little bit.
In 2013, this is now what day two of kindergarten looks like: gym and lockdown.
I am very proud of my son’s school; proud of how they practiced and explained something so unexplainable to such a young child. I just somehow can’t quite grasp that we live in a reality where practicing this now becomes pretty much the first thing our children need to learn as they enter school. I think about Dylan and Newtown and of all the hope and promise and tragedy all wrapped up in one day and I feel sad.
And then Dylan asked me if the bad stranger would come for him. And I looked at him and said with an absolute certainty that I could never have, and lied, and told him this would never happen: “Your school is safe. All the doors are locked.” And his little face asked, “But what if the bad stranger breaks down the doors?” And I lied again, right to his face: “This will never happen.” Even though I know better and you know better. We all know what’s possible. But sometimes lying feels like what’s best for right now.
I remember exactly what my kindergarten classroom was like. There was a giant playhouse in the middle of the room. I think I learned the pledge of allegiance. It was simple and small. I know that this world no longer exists. To effectively prepare our children for today’s world emotionally, educationally, safely – it means very different things in the 21st century. And I guess that’s right. We can’t go back to where we were.
Today’s children seem to know so much at such a young age, even about things that I wish I really didn’t know at all. Even at 35, I would like to believe there are no bad strangers out there. I want to just shut the lights off, pull down the shades, lock the doors and crawl under the furniture with my babies and pretend for just a minute that I actually have the power to keep them safe even though I know a little crack of light from the real world will seep in, reminding me that on this journey there are no guarantees for any of us.
And so this fall I have to let him go, acknowledging that however deep my well of love for him is, it is roughly equivalent to how little I can control whatever comes next in this great big world. I look up and see Dylan’s bus just about to round the corner. I can see his smiling face. That little piece of me is coming home. For today at least, this piece of my heart is whole and safe for just a bit longer.