Thursday morning at 11:22 I received a call from the Lawrence Unified School District.
Hearing about a bomb threat at your child’s middle school has a way of fixing a precise moment in your mind.
The message, recorded by district communications director Julie Boyle, was admirably direct and concise. The school had learned of a possible bomb threat and decided to evacuate the school as a precaution. The students were all allegedly bussed to a nearby high school while law enforcement officers conducted a search. Twenty minutes later, another recorded call assured us that all students had been moved to safety.
My son doesn’t like people knowing if he’s angry or stressed. I, however, have no such qualms. I was both. The afternoon dragged on by the minute until he got home safely.
Once the ordeal was over—the students spent about an hour in the high school gymnasium and then were bussed back to the middle school—she asked me probing questions. He didn’t exactly look traumatized, but he wanted to know what had happened and why.
Why would anyone do this? Was there really a bomb? Were you worried?
Parents answer these questions as best they can. For the record, I didn’t seriously fear a bomb was about to tear through the halls of a middle school in Lawrence. I didn’t believe a sixth, seventh, or eighth grader had been caught making a serious threat. One can only speculate about the reasons, but law enforcement and the school staff will do their best to extricate the situation.
I was concerned, though. I was concerned because, in those long Thursday afternoon minutes, I had lost the ability to protect my son.
My husband and I have adopted our newborn son. We have been entrusted with a precious person. I felt it deeply, from the moment he was born almost 12 years ago. We do our best every day to make sure he is safe, fed, educated, entertained and loved. He has his own ideas about how to define those terms (fed’s version of him includes a lot more chicken sticks), but I think he would agree on the job description.
That Thursday afternoon I could not guarantee his safety. She was in someone else’s hands, in a rapidly changing situation.
That Thursday afternoon I could not guarantee his safety. She was in someone else’s hands, in a rapidly changing situation. Boyle’s texts said to wait, so I waited.
Too many people forget that children don’t walk among us as a separate species. It’s literally us, just younger. They may have ingested less information (although in this online age that might be questionable), but they understand a lot about the world around them. These middle school students could ascertain their situation: something had gone wrong.
They understood. My son realized I wasn’t there to protect him.
He asked me later why I hadn’t picked him up from high school. Parents of other students had apparently passed by, ignoring the administrators’ requests to keep their distance.
“I was trying to follow the rules,” I told him. Because that’s what ultimately makes everyone safer, right?
I’d driven since high school, obviously. This is the advantage of neighborhood schools. I could drive from middle school and high school, watching the long yellow buses carry hundreds of preteens and teenagers from place to place. My car traced its course, down Iowa Street and turning onto 19th, stopping and stopping, making room for other vehicles, navigating the masses of humanity unaware of this neighborhood drama.
You can’t keep kids safe forever, of course. They don’t want it. Reasonable parents don’t want that.
But that Thursday in Lawrence I didn’t expect the lesson so quickly, so brutally, so in the face. And at least today, I have no larger lesson to share, no political point to make. Sometimes the events alone are enough, with no added metaphor or imagined social impact. I could try. No doubt a few paragraphs about Ukrainian parents and children would do, as would society’s broader concerns about violence and the funding of education. But not today.
When I finally showed up at the middle school for early pickup, at the administrator-approved time of 2 p.m., I waited and watched as a teacher went to pick up my son. I saw him through the glass, walking towards me, wearing his winter coat and looking slightly annoyed.
In that moment, I wanted to hug him and reassure him that nothing was ever going to go wrong. Never.
For the moment it seemed real.
Clay Wirestone is opinion editor at Kansas Reflector. Through its opinion section, the Spotlight works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policy or excluded from public debate. He finds information, including how to post your comment, here.