kids

'My child's school went into lockdown. Part of me is outraged that such a thing even exists.'

It’s 11am on a Wednesday. I’m sitting at home writing at the computer, when I hear something. I pause to actively listen. It’s music, floating in on the breeze through the door. I recognise the song. It’s an old classic, The Lion Sleeps Tonight. But today it unnerves me, making my fingers tingle. We live close to the primary school where my children go. I know this song is played when my children’s school goes into lockdown.

I first heard about these lockdown drills when my kids started school. When I was at school, there was the fire drill. An alarm sounded and everybody was meant to leave their classrooms in an orderly manner and congregate on the oval. Kids these days still do these fire drills. But now they also practice hiding under desks and staying silent.

I get up and hurry out onto our patio, listening. The music sounds disconnected and out of place. A song I always sang along with now makes the hair on the back of my neck prickle.

I know what my kids are doing right now. They are hiding under their desks, locked into their classrooms by their teachers. Little kids crouched under tables, trying not to giggle with their friends because they hopefully have little idea why they are doing this, what possible scenario could necessitate these actions. They’re not old enough to remember Sandy Hook and Columbine. But I am.

"I know what my kids are doing right now. They are hiding under their desks." Image via iStock.

All I can think about is that tiniest chance that this is not a drill. I consider texting a friend who works at the school, but that would be overreacting. Surely it is a drill. Surely the type of incident where kids cower in their classrooms won’t happen at my children’s ordinary suburban school. Surely. After all, we live in Australia not America.

But I’m a police officer. I know from experience that the unlikely, the unforeseeable, the unimaginable – that these things do happen. Violence and tragedy can strike any where, any time, and even sometimes on a quiet Wednesday morning in the suburbs.

Surely if something was really happening, I would hear that over the eerie music. Shouting, sirens, gunshots. Anything. And then what would I do? I would rush to the school. Would it be faster to drive to the school or run? Jump off the patio, across the vacant lot, over the creek, through the carpark. Shoes or no shoes? I think I’d just take off.

Part of me is outraged that such a thing as a lockdown drill even exists. What sort of society do we live in where we have to teach children as young as four to hide and be silent to keep them safe at school? At school, for god’s sake, where they are meant to learn and play. But it’s a possibility, (a remote one but nevertheless) that this sort of drill may protect them from harm one day.

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The music stops. Life in suburbia returns to normal with the press of a “stop” button on a CD player. Of course it was a drill.

I wonder what my children made of it all.

'"Of course it was a drill."Image via iStock.

I ask them when they get home. My son says it was boring, and my daughter is cross because she missed out on some of her music lesson. I ask them why the school plays that particular song. They both agree – lions are dangerous, it means there’s danger.

At a neighbouring school, they play Yellow Submarine. My friend’s son explained the song choice. “The bad person will hear the song and think - that song is so daggy, that school must be so uncool - and they won’t come in.” I’m not sure what I like more – his logic or the fact that he has minimal grasp of the reasons behind a lockdown.

According to the Education Queensland website, the school shouldn’t sound an alarm as it may “agitate” people, or alert them to the fact that the school is locking down. Schools should use music or a code. So presumably, all around the country, primary school children are hiding under tables to different melodies, according to their principal’s taste.

Is this song ruined for my kids forever? Will they get a twitchy urge to hide under furniture whenever they hear “wimoweh” any time in their lives?

That, evening, I start singing the song to my children.

“STOP!” both children yell.

Is it my singing?

“No,” my daughter replies, shivering. “You’ll give me nightmares.”

She understands more about lockdowns than I suspected.

Everything about this makes me sad.

J.M. Peace is a pseudonym for a serving police officer in Queensland. She is a mother of two and author of The Twisted Knot (out now). 

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