At a beloved park near my house adjacent to the neighbourhood school, there are four exits. The playground winds through a large garden intermixed with a soccer field and is shaded by numerous trees and shrubs. Near these exits I have chosen a handful of hiding spots.
I have this detailed map of the park in my head not because of next-level games of hide-and-seek, but because our country has a deep-rooted problem with mass shootings and I want to protect my child at all costs, even if that means always finding the exits and a spot to hide out.
It doesn't matter where I go or how banal the errand is; the first things I do are find the exits and determine where I would hide in the case of a shooter. To be fair, I was trained to look for exits from a young age. As a native of California, it was drilled into me to look for a way out in the event of an earthquake. It is a safe practice, an easy way to have a greater chance at survival in any dangerous situation. Yet I lived in California for 30 years, experiencing only a handful of earthquakes, none of which would make me run for the doors. I have, however, been through half a dozen lockdowns as a teacher, all of which have forced me to cower in a corner with terrified children.
Every room I was designated came with clear lockdown instructions, which meant I had to have an easy way to block the windows if I was on the ground floor and to move my desk into the "safe zone" of the room so that, if needed, I could cram my 30 children behind my desk covered in essays to be graded. What was not officially on the lockdown policy were my obsession with making sure closets were cleared in case I needed to shove my kids in them and an action plan for what I would do in the event of an intruder. In every room in every school I worked in, I had a plan.
With my 3-year-old son, there's no telling what he would do in a mass shooting. I can't get him to speak using an inside voice even when bribing him with lollipops.
This obsession with finding places to hide and identifying the exits has been made even more extreme now when I'm out with my toddler son. I taught high school, where the children were capable of understanding life-and-death scenarios. With my 3-year-old son, there's no telling what he would do in a mass shooting. I can't get him to speak using an inside voice even when bribing him with lollipops, so I doubt I'd be able to keep him quiet if someone with an AR-15 were trying to attack us.
Because mass shootings like the ones at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the Pulse nightclub, and Las Vegas continue to happen, whenever I leave the house with my son, I have to find places to hide and identify all the exits, just in case — just in case someone decides to murder with an all-too-easily-attained firearm; just in case someone has chosen a path of hatred and a disrespect for life. I will do whatever I can to protect my son, even if that means I need to size up hiding spots and contemplate cowering for my life between clothing racks at Target. There, between the paisley maxi dresses and Summer capris, I've planned how to hopefully turn us invisible in a crowd.
Of course, I shouldn't have to worry about this. When I go to Target, I should be thinking about how I'm going to accessorise a new pair of booties and whether or not my son really needs another Lightning McQueen car, not whether or not this shopping trip, or any outdoor adventure, is going to be our last.
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