A few months ago, an email arrived from my sons' school. That afternoon, administrators had briefly placed the school on lockdown, due to a "matter that involved a parent." That parent had not gained access to the building, the email assured, and had quickly been arrested.
This didn't cause me any great alarm. Perhaps I had become inured to seeing the word "lockdown" in an email from the school; whether the event is a school closing, a teacher workday or a lockdown drill, my boys' Chapel Hill school is very good about notifying us, either via email, automated voicemail or both. Or perhaps I was inclined to see the seemingly benign resolution of the incident as confirmation of the school's due diligence.
But, last Friday afternoon, I contemplated the carnage in Connecticut as I stood at the corner waiting for my boys' school bus to bring them back home. I remembered that email, and this time it unsettled me.
The distant rumble finally arrived. When the big yellow bus rounded the corner and came into view, the ungainly bulk was never more welcome. The doors swung open and, a moment later, the boys clambered down the steps, both of them talking about different things to me at the same time, just as always. On the way home, I squatted down and drew them close. I'm a hugger, so they didn't suspect this embrace meant anything more than usual.
Once we got home, they scattered, enjoying the homework-free buzz of a Friday afternoon. I busied myself in the kitchen. Soon enough, as various things sizzled and boiled on the stove, the boys informed me that there was something I had to see. No, it wasn't news coverage of Newtown—they don't watch TV, preferring instead to play games or watch YouTube.
When I've got a kitchen full of cooking food, I often say I'll watch with them later. This time, I went. We scrunched together in front of the computer, my arms draped around little-boy shoulders. Somehow, despite the total absence of anything remotely cowboy-like in our heritage, my sons had discovered bareback bronc riding. We watched Caleb Johnson stay aboard Bones for nearly eight seconds. When I didn't immediately get to my feet, but rather kept holding them close, they took that as an opportunity to show me rides with Virtual Limit, Chicken on a Chain and Bushwacker doing their thing. For me, it was an excuse to hold them a little longer.
A few days have passed, and reality has set in. I've acquiesced to watching a lot of bronco rides this weekend, but I'll admit that my impatience has crept back. Still, I've tried to sustain my renewed sense of awareness that our time together is never a given and that what we do with our time matters, even when it's just 7.9 seconds.
Eventually, we'll talk about what happened in Connecticut. They will hear about it in school, and the conversation will come home. When it does, it'll be all right: We've discussed death many times, and my boys are realists. Until then, I'll do my best to preserve their little bubble of not knowing, to keep at bay a monstrous reality I'll never be able to fully explain. This is no easy ride.