“It may take a village to raise a child, but not every villager needs to be a mom or a dad. Some of us just need to be who we are.” –Meghan Daum
One day last spring I was volunteering at my children’s school, as I often do. This particular day I was signed up to be with the kindergarten class, doing an activity called Baggie Books. I’m sure most schools have this activity, but if you’re not familiar, it’s when you go to the school and take turns reading with the children. It gets its name from the zippered “baggies” that the children use to take their book home and continue practicing with their parents. I’m going to go ahead and put it out there that Baggie Books is one of my least favorite volunteering activities. The books are boring, the chairs you have to sit in are doll-sized, and the kids, while very sweet and cute; well, most of them can’t really read. Which is the point of the whole thing, I know, but if you’re like me and tend towards being a crankypants, the activity can be summarized as squatting in the hallway and sounding out words for an hour and a half.
Thank you teachers, for being amazing people so I can aggressively pursue mediocrity and grumpiness.
So, anyway, back to Baggie Books. I’m sitting in my plastic American Girl doll chair and listening to a book about “What Bears Like” or something equally ludicrous. And I’m thinking, “I know what bears like. Bears like to eat people.” And then I’m wondering, “Why do these books make us think that all animals are so freakin’ friendly? I mean, do we really need to encourage our kids to be hanging out with wild animals? I think kids are getting the wrong message, like maybe it’s a good idea to approach a bear and share honey with it?. Because that’s actually a pretty terrible idea all around, and as soon as I get home, I’m making sure my kids know that if they ever see a bear, they need to run away immediately. No, no, wait. Aren’t bears the one you’re supposed to play dead around? Crap, I need to do some research. But I am pretty sure that bears would rather eat people than share honey with them.”
Somewhere in between mentally preparing a Bear Action Plan for my family and gently reminding a sweet little boy about how a Magic E works, an ear-splitting, brain-jangling alarm goes off overhead. Loud alarms almost always paralyze me internally (if I ever accidentally hit the “panic” button on my car’s key fob, I lose all intelligible speech and movement, only able to grunt and slap everything within reach until the alarm is silenced and I can slump over in a cold sweat), and since I’m already sort of glued to Baby Bear’s all-wrong-for-this-bum chair, all I can do is turn my head right and left to try and figure out what’s going on. I look at my patient little kindergartner reader on my left and then I turn to the right and wait for a teacher to come along and give me the “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” that means some little kid has pulled an alarm and maybe we need to line up and go outside. But the “wink, wink” moment never comes. What does happen is that every door on the hallway opens wide, almost simultaneously. Teachers charge forth from all the classrooms, some of them with red backpacks over their shoulders. And the students? All these tiny little people wordlessly line up and follow their teachers, no questions asked.
In 110% less time and questions than it would take me to get my own two children (two, just two children, WHY DOES IT TAKE US HALF AN HOUR TO LEAVE THE HOUSE, PEOPLE?!?!) in shoes and jackets and out the door, our entire school of 1,000+ students, teachers and staff are lined up outside the building. Silent. Awaiting instructions. No one is panicked. No one is goofing off. No one is crying because they have to wear socks.
I stand on that playground with my daughter’s class and look around at all the neat lines of children and adults. I watch those children stand patiently and look to the head of their lines at their teachers with all the trust they can hold in their tiny little hearts, and I get a giant lump in my throat.
I think to myself, “These people KNOW THE DRILL.”
After several minutes, the principal appears and climbs on a table with a bullhorn. It is all, indeed, just a drill. The tone relaxes a little and a few kids get some of their sillies out as we head back inside, overall still orderly and single-file.
It is now late in the afternoon and once we get back the classroom, my time slot for Baggie Books is over. My little under-2-hour stint of responsibility is complete, and I am able to waltz out to my car with no more school duties or classroom concerns other than the ones my own children will bring home with them.
How had I never given more thought to this? That on top of teaching my children how to read and do math (in all kind of crazy jacked-up ways) and be a responsible citizen, this entire team of people is in charge of keeping my children SAFE. Protecting them from all kinds of harms that I don’t even want to think about.
My goodness, the world is so scary. Tornadoes can form in an instant, upending entire towns. Fire can rip through buildings, destroying structures while all we can do is watch. Earthquakes can move the very ground under our feet. Pure evil can show up in any form and take away what is most precious to us in an instant. This is the world we live in. But, also, this world we live in is home to people that are full of love and compassion. There are off-duty volunteer firefighters that will put themselves between a loaded gun and a schoolyard of children. There are teachers who will work tirelessly until a student reaches an “aha” moment. There are doctors that will refuse to leave patients until an answer is found. People that rush in to save others, when logic says to run away as fast as possible. People that don’t freeze when the alarm goes off, but that KNOW THE DRILL.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, to all the people out there that know the drill. None of us can do this alone. You are the light that keeps this village, and this world, from going completely dark.