Somerville, Mass – While riding the bus this week, Twin V noticed that somebody had etched a name into the window pane. “Why would anybody write on the window?” he demanded accusingly. “That’s not right.” I nodded in agreement. Then he continued adamantly “That’s why if you see somebody writing on the window or acting suspicious, you should report it to the driver.”
I was startled. I almost asked Twin V where he learned something like that, before I realized he used nearly the same words as the announcements that are broadcast regularly on the bus. I try to tune out those announcements, but I know the message seeps in. V doesn’t tune out anything, so of course he hears the message loud and clear.
I hate those announcements. I hate the noise pollution. And I hate the culture of fear and suspicion that they contribute to. I hate that Twin V recited the message with such earnestness, although I am somewhat gratified that he equates suspicious behavior with writing on the window.
The twins have heard this message their whole lives–on the bus, at the T station, in the airport. While they may define “suspicious behavior” in their own ways (thankfully), they are already programmed to be on the lookout for it. They are already programmed to be mistrustful.
Later in the week, the twins had a lockdown drill at their school. My spell check doesn’t even recognize the word “lockdown”, but it is now commonplace across the country for school children to practice what to do if a dangerous intruder enters the school. As the twins describe it, they have to know what to do if “a stranger or a bad guy” comes into their school. “Everybody has to go in the cubby area and you have to be absolutely silent.”
There was some discussion among the parents in the lead-up to the drill. One mother called it “worst first thinking”. Another countered “I’d rather our kids be prepared for something that never happens then not be prepared for something that does happen.” With a few exceptions, however, the parents agreed that their children did not think the lockdown drill was particularly frightening.
Certainly, the twins were unfazed by it. When it comes to potentially scary things, they make a clear distinction between things that are real (eg, dogs) and things that are imaginary (monsters). The former is scary, the latter is not. In their minds, the lockdown drill falls squarely in the second category, so it’s not scary. This is why the lockdown drill is so much more upsetting for grown-ups than for children: we understand that it is all too real.
At the dinner table, my family often takes a moment to recall something that we are grateful for. That evening, Twin S reported that he was grateful for the lockdown drill — the highlight of his day, apparently.
In the days since, the twins have been gleefully yelling “Intruder alert! Intruder alert!” when they chase their friends around the playground. The kids are not suffering the lockdown drill.
And yet… how many lockdown drills will they do in their lives? How many announcements will they hear on the bus? How long before hiding from “bad guys” becomes part of the routine, just like looking out for “suspicious behavior”? How did this pervasive culture of fear become the norm?