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The kids will be OK

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Hmmm. I found a post-it note on the wall of my basement that had two words:

Lock Down

It wasn’t my handwriting. It wasn’t my husband’s handwriting. Could it have been left here from the previous owner? We only moved into this house a few weeks ago. Strange. It gave me chills.

No, this looked like a child’s handwriting, so I went right to the source to ask.

“Yeah, I wrote that,” B said, “We were playing the Lock Down game when my friends came over last week for our play date.”

I needed to process. First thought – “I’m raising a psychopath.” Second thought, “You’re overreacting.” Third thought, “Oh my gosh, what will the neighbors think when they hear their kids were playing Lock Down with my kid?”

Even though my mind was racing, I calmly asked, “How exactly do you play Lock Down?”

Anxiously awaiting his response, he smiled and replied, “We turn off the lights. One person plays the shooter in the school and we have to find a way out.”

There it was – my biggest fear being played out in my basement. My face went flush as my stomach sank.

Have you ever had to go through active shooter training? I don’t have the writing chops to transport you into this scenario, but having been through this as a teacher, I can solemnly say, I wouldn’t wish the experience on my worst enemy. Trust me, I’m thankful to learn procedures should I ever be in the position, but there was no way a game called “Lock Down” could be fun.

What is the world doing to these kids?

Fast forward four years. I have been blessed with two additional beautiful, innocent, children since the Lock Down game. I happened to catch a quick moment of my two little ones playing together and overheard the older say to the younger, “Don’t forget to put on your mask! We’re going out today.” I watched Tank struggle to place the adult size mask around Belly’s tiny face. It hit me hard because it was an unexpected moment in their play. Ugh… not again.

What kind of world am I raising these kids in? But let’s flip the script. Even our youngest children do lock down drills in school. My son was seven when this event occurred and it was his second lock down drill in two months. Having these drills are an unwanted reality we all have to face. I hate it. I hate thinking about the possibility of something so disturbing happening in my life, something completely out of my control. I hate the recurring traumatic thoughts of having to choose between risking my life for my students or running so I could see my children’s’ future. Kids go through this trauma too and having an outlet like playing a game is one way they express their fears.

Children build language through their interactions. They combine language with their innate creative nature to role play and critically think in difficult situations. This is what happened when my son created a lock down game. This is what happened when my toddlers were re-enacting our pandemic reality. The types of trauma may be different than it was twenty years ago, but how children handle trauma will not change.

Although children may not have the experiences firsthand, through these drills and through play, they practice visualizing what it’s like to experience a harrowing experience – like being in lock down or being in a pandemic. Counselors and rehabilitation specialists use techniques like these to reenact situations and teach empathy. The scribbled handwriting on the post-it note still sits in the basement as a reminder to myself that my child will be okay.

Our children are learning what they want for their future right now by watching us. They are observing our battles and learning our language. They are silently forming opinions about what is just and ethical. Once they are able to make sense of it all, they will rebuild from the trenches. They will become the law makers, the politicians, the activists, the teachers, the decision-makers, and the parents. We need to arm them with knowledge and guide them with love.

And even with all of the hatred, negativity, and trauma in the world, I can not wait to see the future these kids build.

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