I Wish I Could Laugh Off the Creepy Clown Threat at My Son's School -- but I Can't

school gun violence

I wake in the predawn darkness, breathless from the movie in my mind: my worst fears that play out like a thriller as I sleep. In my nightmare, I watch my son's bus pull up and pause in front of the school, before tearing off over shrubs and curbs because someone is shooting machine-gun fire at the back of the bus. I'm running and screaming after the bus, desperate to know if anyone's been hit -- if he's been hit -- as a news cameraman runs, wild-eyed and excited, next to me, eager to capture and capitalize on my terror.

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I scramble out from under the covers before my 5:45 a.m. alarm. Reorienting after nightmares can often take a minute, but this time, my memory kicks in, immediately. The creepy clown made its way to my town this week, promising, via social media posts, to shoot up one (or both -- he can't decide) of the public high schools in my children's district.

The kids have been chattering about it all week. I ask my son if kids are scared. He tells me people fall into one of three categories:

1. They're planning not to come to school on the day the clown threatens to be there (they're terrified).

2. They're planning to "shank" (stab) the creepy clown with their pencils (they're scared and coping with humor).

3. They aren't scared at all and think it's just a kid playing a prank.

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All week I've been wondering about the school's silence. We've received no letter, no text alerts, no robo-calls. It's not until 9:45 the night before that the school releases a statement, saying it will hold classes and that there will be a "heightened police presence" throughout the district on the following day.

This is when it starts -- the parental posturing showdown of good choice vs. bad choice.

The one crowd says, "I'm not sending my kid," and the other crowd says, "I AM!" and basically starts lighting things on fire.

Parents keeping their kids home are called "irrational helicopter parents" who don't value education. They're lectured for overreacting and being overly dramatic and instilling fear in their own children.

None of this helps me. I'm here, reading comments -- not for entertainment, but because, as a parent, sending my kid to school on the heels of a threat feels counterintuitive. I feel worried. I want to know how other parents feel, what they're planning to do. 

I'm not prepared to weed through the judgement, though I suppose I should be. After all, the creepiest clowns have long been the parent-shamers, who slither out in the comment sections of every article and Facebook post ever written. 

So, instead of commiserating with other parents, I say nothing, and quietly consider the absurdity of the insults. 

Even though since 2013 there have been 197 school shootings -- an average of one a week -- it seems like parents are to blame for everything, from how we react in the face of this increasing violence, all the way down to even being the actual source of fear and paranoia in our own children if we talk to them about threats or choose to keep them home from school when there is a threat.

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I think about the systematic lockdown drills and news reports about first graders cowering behind their teacher, or middle schoolers breathing shallow breaths on the computer lab floor. These are the images that our children must face. I think about the space those images monopolize in the subconsciousness of our kids. 

When I was a kid, we only had tornado and fire drills. I can't fathom the dread that goes along with the kind of too-real pretend of a lockdown drill, of kids hiding under desks and in corners, of watching teachers lock doors and tape construction paper over classroom windows, while they wait for the pretend gunman to rattle the doors.

In the pitch dark, I drive my kid to school. I think about turning around the entire way. "I wish you weren't home sick yesterday ... I wish you wouldn't have so much work to make up if you stayed home another day."

He barely looks up from his phone. He's busy reading, then rattling off to me the list that his girlfriend is compiling of which friends' parents are keeping them home. He lists at least 10, then adds, "Shall I go on?"

During the too-short commute, I consider what "heightened police presence" might look like. Too many cops will weird me out. Too few? Also not good. I watch the handful of paired-up walkers along the stretch beside the golf course, then the park. I shouldn't have watched the creepy clown videos before the drive. Visions of white-faced clowns, slinking out of the treeline, send shivers up my spine.

The Student Resource Officer's is the only police car in the parking lot.

"Why is he the only one here," I think, aloud.

Normally, my kid gives me a hug when he leaves. Not today; we're too close to the doors. He slings his backpack over his shoulder and walks toward the entrance. He chats in the predawn haze with some girl I can't identify. 

I think of Sandy Hook and Columbine as I pull away; of how my son's first-hour class is on the ground floor, giant windows to the parking lot.

"Tell your teacher to close the blinds," I'd said as he got out. "I will," he said too quickly, as though he'd already had the thought himself.

 

Image via TFoxFoto/Shutterstock

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