Kindergarten Lockdown Practice

Yesterday, I subbed in kindergarten. We had to practice a lockdown. It was heart wrenching.

Before we marched into the closet, their teacher gathered them close on the morning meeting rug, one bedecked with lily pads and frogs, the spot they congregate for group activities. She spoke in a soft, calming voice.  Her words were deliberate, carefully chosen.  She told them what we’d be doing. That they would have to sit in the coat room, and stay perfectly still.  Not a sound could be made. It might last a long time. Instead of firemen coming, police officers would.  They’d check in on every classroom. To make sure they were doing it right. Their puzzled expressions led her to say, in case something bad happens.  Her face was reassuring, but we both knew a vice was gripping her heart.

This harkens back to the duck-and-cover drills we practiced in grade school.  Threats of a nuclear attack glared down from a ledge in everyone’s mind.  It has stayed with me, in the form of low-lying anxiety that never really went away.  I pray these young souls don’t suffer the same.

As we scrunched in the closet, in the space where backpacks and snowsuits are hung each day, I worried about the kids who had issues with impulse control, who blurted things out when they needed to be heard. Could they be the ones who caused accidental calamity to themselves and others?  Because they were just being who they are–little ones, who deserve far better than what our world has to offer right now.


I thought this would be a fitting first post on my blog, the poem written and read by Richard Blanco at the inauguration of President Obama’s second term:


One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,
peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces
of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth
across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies.
One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story
told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.

My face, your face, millions of faces in morning’s mirrors,
each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day:
pencil-yellow school buses, the rhythm of traffic lights,
fruit stands: apples, limes, and oranges arrayed like rainbows
begging our praise. Silver trucks heavy with oil or paper — bricks or milk, teeming over highways alongside us,
on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives — to teach geometry, or ring up groceries as my mother did
for twenty years, so I could write this poem.

All of us as vital as the one light we move through,
the same light on blackboards with lessons for the day:
equations to solve, history to question, or atoms imagined,
the “I have a dream” we keep dreaming,
or the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won’t explain
the empty desks of twenty children marked absent
today, and forever. Many prayers, but one light
breathing color into stained glass windows,
life into the faces of bronze statues, warmth
onto the steps of our museums and park benches
as mothers watch children slide into the day.

One ground. Our ground, rooting us to every stalk
of corn, every head of wheat sown by sweat
and hands, hands gleaning coal or planting windmills
in deserts and hilltops that keep us warm, hands
digging trenches, routing pipes and cables, hands
as worn as my father’s cutting sugarcane
so my brother and I could have books and shoes

The dust of farms and deserts, cities and plains
mingled by one wind — our breath. Breathe. Hear it
through the day’s gorgeous din of honking cabs,
buses launching down avenues, the symphony
of footsteps, guitars, and screeching subways,
the unexpected song bird on your clothes line.

Hear: squeaky playground swings, trains whistling,
or whispers across cafe tables, Hear: the doors we open
for each other all day, saying: hello, shalom,
buon giorno, howdy, namaste, or buenos días
in the language my mother taught me — in every language
spoken into one wind carrying our lives
without prejudice, as these words break from my lips.

One sky: since the Appalachians and Sierras claimed
their majesty, and the Mississippi and Colorado worked
their way to the sea. Thank the work of our hands:
weaving steel into bridges, finishing one more report
for the boss on time, stitching another wound
or uniform, the first brush stroke on a portrait,
or the last floor on the Freedom Tower
jutting into a sky that yields to our resilience.

One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes
tired from work: some days guessing at the weather
of our lives, some days giving thanks for a love
that loves you back, sometimes praising a mother
who knew how to give, or forgiving a father
who couldn’t give what you wanted.

We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight
of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always — home,
always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon
like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop
and every window, of one country — all of us –
facing the stars
hope — a new constellation
waiting for us to map it,
waiting for us to name it — together