Yesterday, getting the children to sleep at naptime was a breeze. One teacher led our class of twelve two-year-olds in a few deep breaths to ready their bodies for rest, and the other two of us helped get the children settled on their little cots. Blankets pulled up to chins, loveys tucked into chubby arms.
A few of our children can put themselves to sleep on their cots. The rest need some help -- which means we teachers move from cot to cot, patting backs and soothing them while soft music plays in the background. We usually have a few children who are more difficult to get to sleep than others, but for some reason, yesterday was blessedly easy.
At 1 o'clock, I went next door into the toddlers classroom so that the toddler teachers could go on their breaks. Seven peaceful toddlers (miraculously) slept on their cots, so I sat down to check my phone. At that moment, our director walked into the classroom. She was white as a sheet, and reached out to hug me immediately.
"Something awful has happened," she said. "I need to come hug everybody."
She proceeded to tell me about the soul-crushing events that happened just a few hours earlier in Newtown, a small city about 45 minutes from our little school.
I was in shock. She went to tell the other teachers, and I frantically googled for information on my phone. One of the toddlers woke up, and I immediately picked her up and held her to me. Normally, if a child wakes up early from nap, we try to pat them back to sleep on their cots. Not yesterday. I gathered her in my arms and rocked her back and forth. Then I went from cot to cot, hugging and kissing each sleeping child, knowing their parents were likely aching to do the same.
The rest of naptime was a blur. I sat and held the little girl, and my mind raced -- this happened 45 short minutes from us. That school required people to be "buzzed" in, and so does ours. Someone had to let that gunman into that school. Can you imagine being that person?
I also was acutely (and perhaps irrationally) aware that these instances sometimes inspire copycat actions. I looked at the seven kids I was currently responsible for, and I looked at our little classroom with its multiple large windows and three glass doors, and I tried to think what I'd do if something happened at my school. Where would I hide those babies? How would I be able to move them all to a safe place?
We teachers received a flurry of emails yesterday about our emergency protocol procedures. I know we'll be having meetings next week to discuss this as well. I (and my fellow staff, I'm sure) am acutely aware that my first priority is the well-being of the children in my care. I would do anything, including give up my life, to save them.
But in a more immediate sense yesterday afternoon, as it pushed toward 2pm and kids were waking up from nap, we all had to set aside our emotions and keep the afternoon "normal" for the children. One by one, their little heads popped up on their cots, and they'd grin when they saw us. Thank god, thank god, our kids wouldn't know anything about what happened just 45 minutes from us. To them, it was a Friday afternoon at school, and they were safe and they were loved. So loved.
The rest of the day passed quickly. Parents were emotional at pick-up, and I was so glad to pass children along to their parents' outstretched arms. I know the 20 parents who weren't able to bring their children home yesterday were on everybody's minds. In our small school alone, there were three families who had friends or loved ones affected at Sandy Hook Elementary.
We cannot let this happen again.
Please, let this horrific event be a catalyst for change in this country. Please do not let those 20 children and six teachers have died in vain. Please, let's stop being intimidated by the NRA and actually do something with gun control. Please.