This morning I stood in the empty amphitheatre at my boys’ elementary school, listening to the morning announcements with tears in my eyes.
I have a standing meeting with the principal every Tuesday. We wait until the morning dropoff madness is over, until the kids are settled into their classrooms, and the bustle in the front office has died down. We review upcoming events, staff needs, news to share with parents.
This morning wasn’t like other Tuesdays. I started getting texts from other parents before 7AM. “LAUSD is shut down today because of a bomb threat. Are we open?”
As a PTA president, I have no clue. People think I have the information, but I’m just as in the dark as they are. Luckily, I have a good connection with our principal, who is in her first year at our school. I can text her. It’s like a direct connection to The Boss.
First I checked all online sources of information I could think of. There was no additional news beside the simple fact: Los Angeles Unified School District board member Steve Zimmer received an email last night about a “safety threat” to the district. Law enforcement and city and school officials took it seriously, and closed all 900 schools in the district, affecting 600,000 students and their families, and the staff who work there.
Naturally, since our school district is immediately adjacent, everyone wonders: is our school affected? What do we do? Should I keep my children home? But our district hadn’t posted anything yet, so reluctantly, I texted the principal. I didn’t want to add to the chaos I imagined she was experiencing.
Luckily she knew an answer was on the way. Our superintendent released a statement: we are open. We are safe. Sheriffs will be patrolling every school today, just in case.
So I sent my kids to school. Before they left, I told them about their neighboring district shutting down, because I knew they’d hear about it. They were unconcerned. “Does this mean you’ll give me a ride today?” asked Brady.
Not a chance. I’m just not that way. I felt in my heart that they would be safe.
But then I headed to school, and when I got there, the public spaces on campus were empty, as usual for that time. Class had started. The parking lot had more available spaces than usual. Twelve percent of parents chose to keep their students home from school today.
I walked into the school, noticing the relative emptiness. The sweet voices of the 5th graders making morning announcements reverberated against the cement walls. And then the principal herself chimed in: “We are safe. We care about you. We are doing everything we can to make sure you stay safe.”
In that moment I imagined the empty campus of Sandy Hook Elementary School after the shooting three years ago yesterday. I remembered the terror I felt, the searing empathy for the families of that community. How I snuggled in bed with Kyle that night, face puffy from crying all day.
Are they safe?
A news reporter paraphrased the LAUSD superintendent’s statement: “We are taking an abundance of caution” in shutting down so many schools. The board member asked for the cooperation of everyone in Los Angeles, since this shutdown is affecting the entire city. Nothing is more important than the safety of the students, they said.
As I listened to the children’s voices, the principal assuring everyone that the school is safe, and looking around at the empty spaces at the school, I felt it more than ever: my children are my heart, walking around outside my body. Every time a terrible thing happens, my instinct is to hold them closer, to retreat to the safest place. But that’s not something I can do every day.
I’m the mom who lets them ride to school on their bikes. I delight in the old-school parenting vibe of it all, when they come in the door after school, dumping their backpacks not where they are meant to be stored. I suppose it’s a false sense of comfort I have settled into.
But how do you prepare for something bad to happen? Even if I keep them home from school on a dubious “safety threat day,” what about tomorrow?
My abundance of caution isn’t physical – it’s an anxiety I feel every day. They’re growing up, they’re learning about the world, they’re growing away from me. I do the best I can, together with my husband, to lead by example, to set boundaries, to teach them to be careful, yet encourage them to live their fullest lives.
We have to be careful, yes, but we have to live. I hope the city of LA and all the students and families can recover from this bizarre day quickly. I hope the threat is found and obliterated, and the people behind it are punished, and that the world sees it, and takes note.
Meanwhile, I can’t wait to hear the thud of the backpacks on the floor, and to remind the boys to wash their hands. I can’t wait for them to come home.