Waiting At The Gate

Student Release Drill


Today I participated in a student release drill at one of my boys’ schools. It was an interesting experience. An email had been sent out before hand letting parents know what to expect during the drill.  At the designated time I arrived at the school and waited with the other gathering parents at the main gate. It was quite a picturesque scene. Groups of Moms and Dads huddled together with their coffees in hand. There were a few grandparents there in line, too. And then there was me, nanny extraordinaire. As I scanned the scene it began to feel awkward. One group of parents was talking blissfully about their plans for President’s week. (Those of you outside the San Francisco Bay Area, our schools close for the week of the Presidents day holiday. When I was in high school it was called ski week, because everyone would take off for Tahoe, CA/NV for a great week of skiing.) Another group of Moms were talking about tomorrow’s yoga class. Two Dads’ were checking out the aps each other had recently downloaded. I slipped my ear buds in my ears and put on some music, one to drown out the white noise, and two to keep my self from becoming overwhelmed with emotion. Standing at that gate, waiting to get to my child was filling me with anxiety and sadness.


Ok, so it’s just a drill, get a grip. But I began to think about what it would really be like to be standing at that gate, knowing some sort of emergency had occurred to the point it was no longer safe for my child to be at his school. Wouldn’t that create anxiety in anyone? I began to sway side to side mostly to try and keep warm. But I could feel the anxiety bubbling in my stomach, rising up towards my throat, until a giant ball of emotion was lodged there. I was doing everything I could to hold back the emotions that were quickly welling up inside me.


We’ve all seen the photos from Sandy Hook. The crying children being ushered out of their school, the Mom frantically talking on her cell phone, brothers and sisters huddled together looking so innocent and terrified at the same time. This drill brought it all back for me. The crazy disbelief of what I was seeing on TV, and the complete sadness that I would have to try and comprehend what appeared to be shear madness. Overwhelming! And I was imagining it all, while standing there at that gate, waiting, waiting, waiting. What it must have been like for those parents arriving to try and find their children? Standing there I wondered if anyone else was contemplating the absolute luxury that we were being afforded. We parents didn’t have to stand there panic stricken and terrified. We were able to enjoy each other’s company while talking about frivolous things. Not one of us had to worry about the safety and well being of our child on the other side of that gate. We knew that everyone was present and accounted for, and most importantly safe. I was able to fight back the tears that really want to stream down my face, thank goodness. (OMG embarrassing!!!), and proceeded with the rest of the drill.  I did say to a small group of Moms waiting near me how overwhelming this drill was. And luckily another Mom admitted she was getting a little emotional.  I was glad to know I wasn’t the only one feeling this way. When my child was released to me in the designated release area, I hugged him. A hug to show him that I love him. A hug to say, I’m here. A hug to provided us both a little comfort before moving on to the safe waiting area. I asked him what he had for a snack and we proceeded on while all the other Moms, Dads and grandparents were reunited with their students.


In the end, I decided that the drill should provide me with a high level of confidence. I could see that our school district takes their emergency procedures very seriously, and that time and energy had gone into planning not just this drill, but for a real emergency. Principals from other schools within the district were in attendance observing, as well as members of the local police department. All in all it was a very smooth event, which will hopefully provide information that will help when and if (God forbid) a real emergency were to occur. What I learned is that I hope I never have to wait at a gate under any other circumstances at one of my boys’ schools. I hope no other parent has to wait at a gate under any other circumstances. I hope it is always just a drill.


That’s all…what the pickles.




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