On Thursday, my daughter’s high school was on lock down for over four hours, and it was not a drill. The details don’t matter, and quite frankly I don’t want to get into them here because they are too painful and messy and ultimately not the point.
She was fine. She is fine. We are all, in the big picture, fine.
Despite her being “chill” during the entire event and despite my husband and I knowing that she was safe and knowing that of course it takes several hours to search and clear a campus as large as the one where she attends school, nothing about those hours felt easy. There is nothing chill about a lockdown, even if no one is physically hurt.
When I received the all-clear notice that the lockdown was over, I felt the wash of relief followed quickly by the desire to cook dinner. I wanted to provide sustenance for my family. I wanted to create a pot of something simmering on the stove, enveloping my daughter in the aroma of home when she walked in the door. I wanted to create an environment of safety and security, and I felt my motherly instincts click into high-gear. I chose a simple meal, Skillet-Baked Spaghetti, because it was easy to prepare and provided the universally-loved combination of noodles and creamy meat sauce.
When she arrived home, I greeted my daughter tenderly, hugging her tightly, pressing my arms against her and breathing her in. She joined me next to the stove as I stirred the pasta, waiting for the sauce to boil, and she said, “This smells really good.” I agreed.
“Tell me about today,” I prompted.
She started, “It was fine. I got a lot of homework done…”
I cut her off, my voice quivering, my eyes welling with tears, my heart racing, “Baby, it was not fine. Nothing about today was fine.”
She started to cry and whispered, “I know,” her backpack still on, her armor sliding off, both of us wading into the waters of difficult, swirling emotions. We were fine, but we were not unscathed. No one was hurt, but no one was spared either.
I invited her to tell me everything she heard about the event that day, including all the rumors. She shared horrible details, most of them unsubstantiated, but also none of them outside the realm of possibility. The information, even the rumors, stunned me. I wanted to delete it from her mind and make it disappear. No one should have to look at those thoughts, those possibilities, those outcomes, especially a child. And yet, we did. We stood there at the stove, bearing witness to each awful reality, feeling our feelings, and watching the pasta cook.
It would have been easier in the long run to take a deep breath and pretend like the whole thing never happened, downshifting into gratitude and positivity, but that’s not how it works. Or rather, that’s not how it works best in the long run.
Loss creates grief, and grief requires a witness.
Even though we slept soundly in our beds that evening and attended a football game the next evening and basically moved along with our lives in a somewhat normal manner, we lost something Thursday. Innocence, maybe. Or the belief that we are exempt from tragedy. Or the assumption that we are safe at school, or safe anywhere for that matter. All of these are losses, even if no one was physically harmed. Standing at the stove acknowledging the fear and naming the terror was a necessary step for both of us.
At one point during the lockdown, texting her for updates, checking on her, I reminded her, “Stress requires calories. Please eat something.” She thankfully had her lunch with her and assured me she would eat it. When she came home, she was, understandably, hungry, delighted to see the pot of spaghetti on the stove. She ate a big bowl of it before leaving for the evening’s activities, and she said it tasted really good. I agreed.
Sometimes spaghetti is just a meal, but for me this week, and I hope for my daughter as well, it was a comforting reminder of the safety and security of home in the midst of a broken world. This week reminded me that the moments we take for granted can become our greatest gifts depending on the day, and there is nothing sweeter than home.