Yesterday, there was an FBI manhunt in our neck of the woods for an on-the-run murder suspect described as “extremely dangerous.” It began near my daughter’s school and gradually progressed toward my son’s. They were both in “hard lockdown” inside their classrooms for a couple of hours. Bus-riders were in lockdown even longer. Hard lockdown, or “code red” as my daughter knows it from the practice drills, means nobody is to go in or out of the school, shades are to be drawn, lights turned off, doors locked, and kids huddled in a pre-designated safe spot in the classroom.
My 4-year-old son goes to a little church preschool and was pretty oblivious to what was going on. My daughter is older, in the third grade, and can’t have the wool pulled over her eyes so easily. She was clearly shaken up by the experience. After being able to sign her out of her classroom, where the kids were indeed sitting in the dark but watching a video and not cowering in tears as my over-active imagination had feared, I asked her what she knew about the situation. Obviously, she knew they were on code red. She explained that she knew that code red could mean there was a bad guy in the school. And she knew–or thought she knew–that this dread scenario for which she’d drilled was basically really happening. That’s because she overheard her teacher telling another adult that a bad guy was nearby.
“Mom?” she asked as I filled out more of the story for her. “Did he kill anyone?” I told her that he was in trouble for a murder case that had occurred in the past, that nobody had been killed today, and that the police would be able to capture him. I watched her eyes scanning outside our car, looking nervously for this bad person.
Later, as she wrapped her lanky limbs around me like a baby chimp and curled in my lap for a hug in a way she never does anymore, my daughter asked, “Mom, did that man kill a grown-up or…well, you know, someone smaller?”
To tell you the truth, I don’t know, but I told her it was a grown-up. What a scary afternoon she had. I spent much of last night thinking about something that’s been weighing on my mind for a couple of months now. I brought it up to my husband just after the Boston Marathon bombing, but it had been brewing in my head since December 14 of last year, the day of the Newtown massacre.
“I’m starting to feel like there’s a strange thing we have to do,” I said to him. “I think we’re supposed to figure out how to raise brave children. I think that might be one of our jobs.”
The thing is, I’m not sure how to do that job. Bravery has never before been something I saw as an essential life skill for me when I was growing up, and certainly not for everyone. Bravery was the domain of soldiers, police officers, and, quite frankly, men in general. But the more bad I see in this world, the more I think it’s a critical life skill for everyone. Our younger generations are growing up every day with this constant onslaught of frightening news from every direction. I think about how we’ve been at one war or another for most of their lives, how terrorism isn’t an overseas thing to them like it was to me when I was a kid, and how, strangely enough, they don’t seem any braver for it. If anything, they seem more calloused.
I don’t want to raise calloused people. I also don’t want to raise people who rely entirely on the decisions and actions of others for their safety. For now, it’s fine, but for when they grow up, they need to be brave. I want to raise kids who can think for themselves in crisis situations, who can respond with confidence and courage, not with deferential resignation. I want to raise them to have mettle that exceeds my own. How do you raise the type of children who, as adults, will go rushing into the mayhem of a bombing aftermath to help the injured? Because the world really needs those people. How do you raise the type of children who don’t retreat from evil but take it on? Because the world really needs those people. In this world, in these days, how do you raise brave people instead of calloused ones? I don’t know yet, but the world is always going to need them, so someone’s got to do it. I’d sure like to try.