I'm on call at the hospital today, which—OK, look, no one likes being on call, right? Given the choice between walking the halls of the hospital at 6:30am on a Sunday morning and, I don’t know, having French toast with your kids at home, I think most people would choose the French toast. (Plus or minus on the kids.) But there’s something about being part of the bigger machinery that makes things work. There are unglamorous, less fun, more onerous parts to every job. But you spread them out and everyone takes a turn at it and that’s how you keep things moving forward. This weekend just happens to be my turn. So in that sense, no, I don’t mind it that much.
The other day, when I got home from work, I received this email from the administrators at Cal’s school. Here is the body of the text, excerpted in part:
Last Friday afternoon, we were alerted to the presence of some graffiti in our 7th grade boys’ restroom. It read, “I’m shooting up the school on last day of January.” Some students took a picture of the message and shared it before we learned about it. […] We began an investigation with our administration and school police officer and continue to follow various leads. As of this time, no other graffiti has occurred. The threat references the last day of January as the date that something would take place. While we are always concerned about any threat to students’ safety, we are not alarmed. Although we have nothing to suggest any credible threat, we have reached out to the […] Police Department for additional follow-up and to provide a larger law enforcement presence than normal.
Now, you’ll recall from yesterday's post that Cal is 11 years old now, and in the 7th grade. My God, the 7th grade. I don’t know if this makes me egocentric or what, but the most remarkable thing about having a kid that age is that I truly, vividly remember being that age myself. Not in the way you recall being six or seven—at that age, some memories stick out, but the edges are fuzzy, timelines occasionally discontinuous, characters fungible. No, I mean I really remember being in the seventh grade. I remember where my locker was, and who had the locker above me. I remember the classes I took—not just what books we read and projects we worked on, but I remember the thoughts I had during the classes; about my classmates, about what I was going to have for lunch, about the unfortunate macramé-d sweater vest my French teacher insisted on wearing week after week. Remembering yourself as a preteen is different from remembering yourself as a young child, because after a certain point, though you still had room to grow and mature, that was you in there already, soft but fully formed, the person you were set to be all along.
Cal and I are similar in a lot of ways. He’s smarter than I was, but the way we think about things—the way I thought about things when I was his age—are the same. Sometimes when he tells me things about school, I think about it in the shoes of my own self in that same situation at his age. I don’t know, maybe that’s unhealthy? I’m not projecting myself onto him or anything, and I don’t insist that he does things my way (or the highway, boy). It’s just hard not to associate yourself strongly with your children, particularly as they get older and that parent-child gap starts to shrink ever so slightly.
That said, I have no experiential knowledge of how it would feel to truly worry that one day, some kid might come into the seventh grade hallway, fully armed, and start shooting at people.
The world, as we all know, is a different place these days. Those of us with young kids in certain parts of the country (maybe all parts of the country? I’m actually not sure) know that we don’t just run fire drills anymore. We run disaster drills. We run “active shooter” drills. I don’t think they’re explicitly stated as such—particularly in the younger grades, I they try to keep the scenarios as vague as possible—but this is the world we live in, that we need to rehearse what to do in the event that someone comes into the school with a duffle bag full of guns and just opens fire. It’s so common we have a whole language around it. “Active shooter situation.” “Another school shooting.” Did you know that the columbine is a flower? Maybe you did, but many probably don’t, because it’s not “a columbine” anymore. It’s: “Columbine.”
Part of the problem with the Trump ascension is not so much that we don’t know what to fight against, it’s that there’s so much to fight against that we all get overwhelmed. Which fight do we take on? Which atrocity should we protest first? Which rights should we prioritize to defend? Healthcare access? Reproductive freedoms? Immigrant and refugee protections? Gun control? Environmental protection? The basic human tenet of not acting like a total dickhead at all times? There are so many things that people can’t even pick just one or two, and I think, for me at least, it started to feel like too much. Like: IT’S OFFICIAL NOW, EVERYTHING IS THE WORST, TIME TO LEAVE THIS EARTH AND EJECT MYSELF STRAIGHT INTO OUTER SPACE, BECAUSE THIS WHOLE THING IS SO BROKEN IT’S BASICALLY UNFIXABLE.
So, back to the email. Do I think that this bathroom graffiti threat is real? No, I don’t. I think it’s probably some little punk-ass shithead doing what he does best, which is being a little punk-ass shithead. (We all were, to some degree, at that age, because one of the important tasks of adolescents is learning how to be a human being, and even the best 7th graders aren’t quiiiiiite there yet.) But just the fact of any of it. The fact that he (I’m just presuming “he” because it was written in the boys bathroom) thought to write that particular message. The fact that some kids saw it and got scared and took a picture. The fact that the administration had to investigate. The fact that the police are involved. The fact of the “increased law enforcement presence” as a result. All of it.
It’s not the fact of what is ultimately an adolescent prank in poor taste, so much as the fact that we’ve lost the privilege of truly being able to view it as such. Say what you will about gun rights (and, again, I live in the South—I’ve had this conversation before), but in the end, the resultant culture is one where there is a little less freedom for all of us. I don’t have the freedom to send my kid to school tomorrow and be able to get through my day without worrying, in some dark back corner of my mind where all these types of thoughts collude, that he’s going to get shot. That’s a big concession. These are huge societal losses that we’ve borne.
But when I get overwhelmed with all the things that are wrong and getting wronger by the day, I think: OK. Stop for a second. Slow down. There’s a lot we need to work on, but it’s not going to all happen at once, and it’s not going to all be just on a few of us. There are lots and lots of good people out there who want to help. So I pick things that I want to work on right now. It’s not always the same thing, sometimes it changes week to week, depending on what’s coming up and what seems more urgent in the moment. But I pick a thing, or a few things, to focus on. Other people will pick other things and focus on those. And in that way, it’s like taking weekend call. We spread out the work. We each do a little bit and in that way, eventually, we get to take care of everyone.
I think being overwhelmed at the scale of the job before us shouldn't make us shut down and disengage. I think it’s a reminder of how deeply we care about so many different things. And in the end, that's never going to be a bad thing.
The Little Thing I Did Today: Called my two state senators and left voicemails opposing the immigration ban imposed by President Trump. (Wow, it never stops being weird. "President Trump.") If you live in Georgia, it's interesting to note that neither of our Senators have actually spoken up in favor of such a ban (to my knowledge), so a vocal opposition to the executive order from their constituency might make a difference.
To help, here: a list of all the U.S. Senators, and their positions on the immigration ban if ever publicly stated. Contact info included, along with social media handles.