The flag was the first thing I noticed. Half-staff and limp on this windless morning.
Mourning as we all were, refusing to wave or stand tall.
Driving into the staff parking lot, this familiar drive I have done countless times, my heart was in my throat.
The kids were pouring into school, running to catch their friends or sneak some playground time before the 8:30 bell. Moms and dads walked along behind them, the familiar march I see most weekdays. A bit more somber than usual, I sensed.
This school is home to me. I started here as a rookie kindergarten parent back in 1999, when my son was 5 years old and school seemed the safest place next to my arms.
Years passed, and both of my kids moved up the ranks from the kindergarten crowd to the upper grades.
I snagged an amazing job working with at-risk kids in small groups, teaching social skills and being someone they could count on to talk about their worries or help them deal with rough times at home.
I love these little ones. So fragile, so trusting and so amazingly resilient.
How will I face them today, when that same fragility that endears them to me now makes them seem so very vulnerable?
As I walk the campus after the bell, I feel like I’m on my watch. Every little thing that seems off is questioned. Doors are locked, gates secured and parents gathered in whispering groups, their eyes full of fear. One of them stops me for a tearful hug, thanking me for what we do.
It reminds me of September 11, when the nation’s eyes were glued to the television and our whole world changed. Our feeling of safety stripped from us as if we were no longer entitled to it. I still sent my kids to school that morning. Many did not, but I felt the intense need to move forward, to make it right.
To make my children believe that there is good and fairness and safety in our world.
How do we do that now?
I pick up my first little group — three adorable, full-of-life little kindergarten girls — and we laugh, we sing, we compare shoes and we learn about taking turns.
They are blissfully unaware that their parents had to make a choice this day. A choice to send them to school and to let them live without fear or worry. To trust that the adults in charge are doing everything they can to keep them safe. A choice to keep their lives normal during all of this chaos.
And the choice to just let kids be kids.
And on my watch, that is just what they will be.