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cops and robbers




I was on the phone with my daughter Amy last September, early in my granddaughter’s second-grade school year. She said, “Simone came home from school and told me they did the lockdown drill today.”

I remembered her first year there, kindergarten, in the big old building that sits squarely in the middle of a block on a precipitous hill, and the day I was there for Halloween.  All the girls and their teachers were in costume, gathering to walk in a bunchy line around the block and wave to parents and friends lining the sidewalks of the parade route, when the fire alarm went off. Solemnly following the adults’ directions, the kids filed out and sat down in pairs on the sidewalk around the corner. We visitors were noisily commenting that it was an odd time for a fire drill when two fire trucks pulled up and men in full gear jogged up the stairs and went inside. It got very quiet.

It was quickly forgotten when, fifteen minutes later, whatever had caused the flames in the kitchen was handled, the handsome firemen drove away, and the giddy parade of tiny lions and witches and ghosts skipped and straggled around a block as crowded with cameras as any Hollywood red carpet.

“She said it’s her favorite drill,” said my daughter.

“Why? What’s a lockdown drill?” I asked, beginning to feel cold.

“She said it’s because they only do it once a year, not like fire drills or earthquake drills. She said Mrs. D___ told them they don’t have to practice it as much because it’s not likely to happen.” Amy’s voice became Simone’s, speaking those five words with reassuring sincerity, exactly like her teacher had. I pictured her slowly shaking her earnest little head, her cheeks soft as milk.

I remembered the first few times I went with Amy to pick up Simone from preschool at Temple Emanu-El, how the young man in the dark suit stood with his hand on the locked gate, how he read my badge that said “grandmother” and my name and how he looked into my eyes, how I saw in his that he would, without hesitation, use the gun in the holster under his coat and offer his life to save the three- and four-year-olds chasing each other and pedaling cartoon-y plastic cars in the courtyard behind the bulletproof-mesh-covered fence.

“She said the lockdown drill is really easy. The teacher locks the door and closes the blinds on all the windows and the kids go to the corner of the room farthest from the door and sit on the floor as close together as they can get with no space in between. The teacher sits on the floor too, between the girls and the door.”

“Jesus,” I breathe.

“I know.”

I remembered Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold at Columbine High School and Jared Lee Loughner in Tucson and Buford Furrow, Jr. at the Jewish Community Center in the San Fernando Valley.  And, oh, god, James Huberty at the McDonald’s in San Diego near the border and all those witness statements I had reported in the living rooms of stricken, sobbing family members. I see little limp bodies smeared with blood, hear thin voices crying. I imagine Simone’s fear-twisted face, asking a question for which there isn’t an answer.

“Mrs. D___ said they would have to know how to do a lockdown if maybe there were a bank robber who was running away from a bank on Union Street and decided to come into the school and hide. That way, with the kids all locked in their rooms, the police could go through the school and find him and take him away to jail.”

“Ah, I see. The school is just a convenient hiding place instead of a target-rich environment,” I say. “That makes me a lot less worried.”

“Exactly,” said my daughter, “and it seems to have satisfied the second-graders, at least, who didn’t seem frightened by the idea of a bank robber looking for an empty closet to duck into, kinda like hide-and-seek.”

“We probably don’t want to know what they told the eighth-grade girls.”

“Probably not.”

We were quiet for a few dark seconds.

I said, “It might be a while before I get the picture out of my head of a maniac with a shotgun and a sack full of oily handguns and ammunition stepping slowly down the second-floor hallway, looking into the classrooms at the huddled kids in the far corners, deciding. But I’m glad they explained it so the kids aren’t picturing that, scared out of their skins.”

“I know. Me too. I mean, Simone likes the lockdown drill, let’s remember.”

“I still don’t exactly get why. Is it just because they don’t do it very often?” I asked.

“I think she liked the part where they’re all squished together on the floor and especially that the teacher is sitting there with them. Oh, and she did say that Mrs. D___ said that if the lockdown went on for a long time, the teacher might leave the room to go get the kids something to eat.”

“Ah, food. There’s the good part,” I smile.

“Uh-huh. You and I will be having nightmares about this for days while Simone is happy that they have what amounts to a cozy snack plan.”

“What a kid.”

“She is.”



14 Responses to “cops and robbers”

  • Andy Schulkind says:
    01.22.2012 - 9:12 am

    Well it’s the 21st century version of the Duck and Cover drill. On September 11, 2001, Portland, ME high school went into a lockdown when mistakenly, someone had brought a toy pistol in the school.

    Two of the 9/11 hijackers left from Portland that morning on flight to Boston.

    candace Reply:

    andy, i remember those nuclear drills too. i guess the idea of someone dropping a bomb from an airplane didn’t seem quite as scary (though scary enough) as a real person shooting at a second-grade classroom from short range. i get the shivers just thinking about it – and all the violence (hijackings included) of the last few decades. the portland story … [gulp]

  • Jane Riddle says:
    01.22.2012 - 11:55 am

    In the early nineties my employer, Chevron, had a SWAT team drill to capture terrorists in the facility. All employees knew of this. My daughter, who was using the company gym facilities, did not. Realisitc drills with police and guns drawn can be a terrifying thing! Glad Simone & her classmates were not terrified.

    candace Reply:

    holy crap, poor annie! i can’t imagine what she must have thought was going on. thanks for checking in, jane. it’s good to see you.

  • Beth Wood says:
    01.22.2012 - 1:22 pm

    so happy to have you back – I check every day

    candace Reply:

    thanks so much, beth. i *love* that you do. am working on couple new pieces – hope it won’t be so long next time.

  • marlene Dunham says:
    01.22.2012 - 2:16 pm

    I, too, am old enough to remember hiding under our desks (like those little desks would keep us safe from “The bomb”. I’m glad the second graders weren’t scared half to death, unfortunately they will learn these realities all too soon. So good to see you back here Candace.

    candace Reply:

    thanks, marlene. keep those stories about the adorable twins coming. that reminds me, i don’t know if i had the time to comment on your piece with them in the opposite-color knit hats. that photo is *astonishingly* good. off to check.

  • Bill S. says:
    01.23.2012 - 10:08 am

    Yup, I was a duck-n-cover kid too. Took me a while before I realized the uselessness of that particular exercise.

    But lockdown drills – I so wish we could just go back to the duck-n-cover frenzy. It is getting harder and harder to find a place to raise your children where they are safe and secure. But you know, part of being a parent is the worry every single time they step out the door. All it takes is a drunk driver to wipe out a bus…or any one of a number of accidental or deliberate actions that can put them in danger…

    But what’s the alternative? Staying inside until you’re grown up?

    It’s always been a dangerous world, but we should do everything in our power not to increase that danger ourselves. Sometimes, the not knowing is far better than the knowing.

    I read this over at TOP, but I wanted to comment here. Good to see you again, doll. Keep passing the open windows. :-D

  • chrisnick says:
    01.23.2012 - 1:14 pm

    I’ll take up less room here than I did elsewhere. This was a fine mix of the innocence of a child, and the fear we feel, as adults. Those sweet little ones make the hard stuff much easier for us and they don’t even know it. It just makes me so damn mad these “lockdowns” are so necessary.

  • J. Bear Savo says:
    01.25.2012 - 5:24 pm

    Ah, to have such an innocent view of the world…

    candace Reply:

    it looks even more innocent viewed from the jaded old age position i’m currently in. which is sort of a good and not-so-good thing. thanks for stopping by, mr. savo. :)

  • blackie says:
    01.25.2012 - 7:57 pm

    I watched a Lewis Black clip the other night on how we were all told to hide under our wooden desks in order to survive a nuclear attack. They used to blow the mill whistle here in my town and we were all required to run home. We adults get more concerned about these drills than the kids do and that is probably a good thing. Schools actually are statistically pretty safe places but the Cable News plays the more horrific deals over and over until we think it is more common that it actually is. Good writing, Candace, as usual. I enjoy your site. Just started writing again myself so stay in touch.

    candace Reply:

    thanks for the comment, blackie. i’m delighted to see you again. and will be checking out your site to see what’s new over there. or up there. in the land of green and watery things (we don’t know what those are down here in the farthest SW corner.) ha! xo