Green dots.

You are on a journey through places.

You need to find all the green dots to come back.

And hold on to these cards.

Yesterday began with a conversation about safety in school. My kids are elementary age, there would be no anti-gun violence walk out but there would be conversation. So we conversed over bowls poured too full of hazelnut granola and custom toasted bagels, one lightly, one medium and one not-at-all.

We talked about scary things, about people who use guns to hurt other people, about who the safe adults are in their school and the rest of their world, about adventures they want to take and about planning to be safe on those adventures. We talked about power and the power of voices united, about speaking up and why some bigger kids would be walking out. We covered all of this ground in 8 minutes.

The world is often a scary place. Precautions must be taken. Sometimes they include knowing where to go and hide in the event of an emergency. And sometimes they involve some research about the kinds of predators that live in a particular desert and what kind of anti-venom must be secured in advance of one’s trip.

I’m trying to teach them not to be afraid. Or rather to not be so afraid that you don’t go out and live a loud and gloriously messy life. To be brave. To take chances. To speak up. And to be safe.

After breakfast they left for school and I left for work. And a few hours later I received a text about a gunman blocks away from their school.

I called the school but no one picked up. They were locked down. My children were locked down in their classrooms with brave and calm teachers who were delivering custom-crafted messages about what was happening. For the kindergarten, almost none at all. For the second grade, a light version of the truth. For the fourth grade, medium toasted.

I spent 55 minutes in fear and frustration reading twitter feeds and watching live streamed images of snipers. Wondering if I’d said all the right things in our 8 minutes over breakfast. 55 minutes until I received a call from our babysitter reporting that she had the kids and was heading straight home. All was fine. I’d see them soon.

Eventually we heard that it was a hoax. Some sick duck had called the police from far away and reported a hostage situation. No one was physically hurt. That was the good news.

The bad news is that our community was hurt. Our children, our parents, our neighbors, and first responders who raced to help. Our teachers who spent an hour externally keeping kids quiet and calm and entertained, while wondering internally if this would be the day they didn’t make it home. That’s a hurt that lingers.

I got home and the lights were off. My law enforcement husband opened the door. He’d raced home upon hearing the news. And now he stood in the doorway.

His face was serious. But it’s always serious.

“Brace yourself,” he said.

The lights flickered.

I was handed the note above. I was going on a journey.

The kids in their homework-less hours at home created a scavenger hunt. Their dad and I were instructed to find the green dots. They were happy dots on happy things as we moved through worlds they created in all of our bedrooms. There was a “world kindergarten” and a “photo shoot” room. The “ar[c]tic” and a “coffee shop.” We had to collect the dots and hold on to them to come home.

They were fine. The rooms and the kids.

I was not. I moved through each of the rooms looking for green dots. Looking for lightness and adventure while carrying the weight of the day with each step. The anxiety and sadness I felt, the weirdness of a school day that began with gun safety talk and ended on lock down. The Alanis Morissetteness of it all.

But I kept looking for dots. Carrying them with me as instructed. And by the time the dots were all found–after we’d tip-toed through a kindergarten of reading stuffed animals, and petted a cheetah dressed to the nines on a photo shoot stage, and jumped across iceberg pillows, and sipped coffee with Jill the doll and her pal Dolphin–things were different.

By the time we’d collected them all, I was ready to come back. I think I’m going to carry them with me for a while.

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Agency.

For months she’d been asking to get her ears pierced. Her sister did it for her 8th birthday two years ago without incident.  A quick visit to a local retail chain and, click, click, sister was done.  On to a lifetime of accessorizing her earlobes with assorted enamel emojis, sure to be followed by dangly odd creations in her teens, and someday a couple of tasteful, inherited pearls.

Little sister’s 8th birthday was a week behind us when we arrived at the mall. The piercing had to wait until the soccer season wrapped up. We scooted straight from the last game to the mall, excitement building as we discussed the relative merits of a simple gold ball vs. a heart or star.  The non-ball shapes would be easier to turn which anyone who’s ever been pierced knows is an important task. As the wound heals you don’t want adhesion.

Adhesion.

“What is adhesion, mama?  Is it painful? Will it hurt when they put the earrings in, will it hurt afterward? Is it like a shot or a little pinch? On a scale of one to a billion just how much will it hurt.”

Oh boy.

Trouble was brewing.  Still we made it to the store and completed the paperwork. We watched as two slightly older junior cheerleaders with large bows in their hair sat still while bezeled cubic zirconias were plunged into their lobes. Click, wince, click. Click, “that wasn’t so bad,” click.

No tears. Big smiles, as big as their bows.

Then it was our turn. She sat in the high chair, like a bar stool, looking like she could use some liquid courage. Her eyes, pupils now swollen to twice their usual size, were darting all over the place.

“It’s okay, kiddo. It’s going to be fine. Do you still want to do this?”

She did. But she needed a minute.

That minute turned to 36. 36 minutes of a patient latex-gloved piercer standing by while my poor girl alternated between deep breaths and whispered self-encouragement.

You can do this. No biggie. You can do this. But I don’t want to do this. But I want to do this. You can do this. Don’t be scared, don’t be scared, don’t be scared.

And so it went for 8 more minutes. 44 minutes of sitting in that high chair. 44 minutes of me working through my own waves of guilt, frustration, love, pride, and acceptance.

So what.

Come on.

Do I hold her down?

We should go.

Let’s give her another minute.

I’m pretty sure every minute I let her sit here is an hour of therapy I’ll need to pay for some day.

I should tell her to suck it up.

This is what she wants.

It’s her body.

It’s not my choice.

It’s not anyone else’s choice but hers.

We left at the 44 minute mark. Her ears bearing small black Sharpie dots where earrings might have been.

I paid for the earrings because the hypoallergenic case had been opened.

She says she wants to try again when she’s 9.