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Yesterday morning I headed to my girls’ school for a parent-teacher conference. As I turned out of my alley, I noticed an unmarked police car going past me. When I got to the school I found a squad car in front of the door, and when I buzzed the front desk from the remote-feed camera at the door entrance, the receptionist politely told me she could not let me in at the time, and I should come back later. I figured it was a lockdown drill and left; the school practices going into lockdown mode a few times a year.

Once at home I easily did the conference by phone and hung up twenty minutes later. A couple minutes after that, a friend called and said, “The school is still on lockdown, which is weird, and there’s a helicopter circling overhead. Have you seen that?”

I ran to the window, and sure enough, there was the copter circling right over the school. As I watched out the window I saw two more squad cars go past, and I realized: this was not a drill. And I felt myself start to lose it.

Thirteen years ago I spent the worst morning of my life watching the twin towers fall on television while I wondered if my husband, who worked right next to the World Trade Center, was going to be coming home. Ever. I heard the Tomcat fighter jets flying overhead, the constant wail of sirens, smelled the acrid smoke in the air even as the debris cloud formed, and could do nothing except watch and wait. There was no real information, no way to speak to anyone down there, and absolutely nothing I could do.

Which is where I found myself yesterday morning.

Let me tell you something you probably already know: I would do anything for my girls. ANYthing. And if I thought it would help I would’ve stormed the building, smashed in the glass doors, done anything to get to them. But I knew that there were lots of qualified professionals on the scene who were way better at this stuff than I; and I knew they’d done countless lockdown drills just so everyone would be ready if they had to do a real one. When I held still and really thought about it, I knew there was nothing I could do and I could – at least partly – be content with that.

The harder thing for me, truthfully, was the complete lack of information. Without any real knowledge, any solid facts to help me know precisely what to worry about, I was free to worry about EVERYTHING. A crazy gunman. A suicidal student. An anthrax threat. I just wanted SOMEONE to call me and tell me what was going on, and I felt as helpless as I had that September Tuesday morning.

Fortunately, the threat turned out to be directed elsewhere: a bank robbery in the neighborhood had gone wrong and the two suspects had fled to my area and were being pursued hard, and the police had locked down the school as an eminently sensible precaution the minute the robbery happened. The two men were armed and running through the streets somewhere.

I was ridiculously happy.

As soon as I learned that MY life was at risk more than my kids’, I was good. I mean, not GOOD, but I could handle it. I put my cell phone in my pocket and set my house alarm and went about my business. I’ve got a couple good friends who work in the school, and they called to tell me they’d laid eyes and my girls who were both wide-eyed but ok. My poor mom had been out when it happened, and wasn’t even allowed into the neighborhood for almost an hour; at least I could worry in the comfort of my home!

I still think about 9/11 on a regular basis, of course, and know it’s just one of those events that has shaped who I am, for better or for worse. I assume bad stuff will happen, because it has before, for no good reason. I’ve accepted this, and that 9/11 will forever color how I respond to emergencies or bad news. Over the years I’ve learned to deal with it, and now can see a plane in the sky and not assume it’s about to hit a building. It’s just the not knowing that I’m still not real good at.

As soon as the lockdown was lifted, all I wanted to do was run to the school and grab my babies, who had probably had not nearly the stress and worry over this that I had. But I restrained myself, because I couldn’t make it into a bigger deal than it already was. The girls are going to go through scary stuff in their lives, and I won’t always be there to hold them afterwards. We decompressed after school, and they talked through everything that had happened and how they felt about it all.

I hugged my girls, grateful that nothing bad had happened to them, and knowing I’d gotten through the afternoon ok. And I’m to the point where I can say that I’m grateful that I had the chance to remember once again that I’m not at all in charge of my life and need to constantly surrender that control.

If I could just get a little clue now and then during the bad stuff . . .


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