Snags has a mortal fear of fire drills. It all started when he was in daycare, somewhere between the ages of two and two and a half, when another child pulled the fire alarm. I imagine the sudden loud noise of the clanging alarm frightened him the first time he heard it. When we picked him up from daycare the afternoon this all happened, Snags said, “A baby pulled the fire alarm!”
That of course, seemed impossible. I mean, how could it be? A baby? Pulled the fire alarm? Babies aren’t tall, they can’t reach the average fire alarm, can they? But we quickly learned that Snags was right. It turned out that Megan, a little girl at the school, was in her teacher’s arms as the teacher stood in the hallway near a fire alarm. Megan, curious babe she was, reached out to the shiny red fire alarm handle and gave it a yank, thus setting off the blaring tones of the alarm, and requiring the entire population of the daycare center to evacuate the building.
Three, almost four years later and Snags has never forgotten this. He has also never forgiven Megan this one transgression for the fear it instilled inside him. And over the years this fear… snowballed, more or less.
The preschool that Snags attended insisted that children keep their shoes on during the day, and the teachers imparted the logic that “You need to keep your shoes on in case there is a fire drill!” to the children to teach them this. I assume they said this because if there was a fire, or even just a drill, that they’d waste precious time putting shoes on 10 or 20 children that had been running around without shoes. Evacuating the building without shoes could be a danger. We wouldn’t want these barefoot raggamuffins to cut their foot on a pebble in the parking lot, right?
And yet somehow, in all of that “keep your shoes on” harping, Snags got it twisted in his head that taking shoes off CAUSED the fire alarm to sound. Shoes on and all was golden. The days were quiet and calm. Shoes off and all would be chaos and the screeching alarm would pierce eardrums and turn children into stone. Or at least that’s how I imagine Snags had made the connection of in his mind. Because once, we were at the mall and Snags saw people trying on shoes. He was half way to the exit door before I caught up with him. “Let’s go! Now!” He cried. “The fire alarm’s going to go off!” I couldn’t convince him otherwise. Nothing I said quelled his fears. He started to cry and shake in fear and as the tears began to roll down his face like a sheet of water over Niagra Falls, I conceded that it might indeed be best if we cut our shopping trip short and left the mall as quickly as we could.
When Snags was three a new student started at his school, and was placed in Snag’s classroom. The child had some discipline problems in that he did exactly everything he was told not to do. Also, he was fond of taking off all his clothes any time he felt like it, which seemed to be approximately every five minutes, or three seconds after the teachers had dragged him out from under the craft table and got him dressed again. And of course, as part of all of this, he took his shoes off.
The teachers admitted that this new child was a challenge, and that he was a disruption to the class and that he upset ALL the other children. EVERY. DAY. It seemed there was nothing they could do about this except wrestle the naked problem child to the ground and forcefully put his clothes back on him. Snags began to dislike school. He’d cry in the mornings that he didn’t want to go to school. It wasn’t fun. Jeremy wouldn’t keep his clothes on… Then one day, Snags’ teacher came to me and DEMANDED that I had to do something about Snags, because every time Jeremy took his shoes off, Snags started to panic and cry because he thought the fire alarm was going to go off, and his crying set the other children crying one by one, until the entire class was a roomful of wiggling, writhing, crying children that no amount of anything could calm.
I didn’t know what I could do. Really, it seemed to me, the teacher should be doing something about Jeremy the problem child who couldn’t or wouldn’t keep his clothes or his shoes on. I shouldn’t have to do anything about Snags for being scared. Besides, I’d already spoken to Snags about this. Ad nauseum. I’d explained that shoes, on or off, were not the switch that controlled the fire alarms. In fact, I’d told him there was no connection there at all. But he insisted it was true. After all, the teachers told them this every day. Keep your shoes on in case there’s a fire drill. Only Snags heard “Keep your shoes on or there WILL BE a fire drill.”
Eventually, the problem child was removed from the school. This wasn’t my doing. One morning we just arrived to find that he wasn’t there, and then he wasn’t there the next day, or the day after that…. And then we learned that the school had asked the family to take the child elsewhere, he was simply too great a disruption, too great a discipline problem, and they couldn’t handle him, shoes or not.
That would seem to be the end of the story except Snags focused his energies on Megan, the child who had pulled the fire alarm that very first time. When she was a baby. She’d been moved up to his classroom, and sometimes at nap time the teachers would set up her cot on the floor directly underneath the fire alarm. Snags monitored this like you’d watch a poisonous snake circling around you. He asked the teachers to move Megan’s cot. “She might pull the fire alarm again,” he warned them.
Over time we got to the point where every morning Snags would demand that I ask the director of the preschool center “Is there going to be a fire drill today?” And every morning she’d say “No. No fire drill today.” This got tiring very fast. I was sick of asking the question and I know the director was tired of answering it. But if we didn’t dance the dance, Snags would be paralyzed with fear, right there in the middle of the hallway, unable to move unless he was promised there wouldn’t be a fire drill frightening him on THAT day.
So, after a few months of this, I got the bright idea to tell Snags that the computer where I signed him in in the mornings had a sentence there each day telling me if there was going to be a fire drill or not. So I’d log him in and say, “No fire drill today!” and he’d audibly breath a sigh of relief and relax a little. Sometimes he would even start to skip down the hallway.
The director of course, knew about Snags’ fear of fire drills. It had been born and bred in her center, after all. I’d asked her every day for months if there was going to be a fire drill. So eventually, when there WAS going to be a fire drill, she’d warn me ahead of time. “We’re having a fire drill tomorrow morning,” she’d say to me as I passed by her office on the way back to my car after depositing Snags safely in his classroom. “I’ll try to do it early, before you arrive.” And for the most part, this worked. I think we went almost 1 ½ years without Snags having to partake in a fire drill of any sort.
But then Kindergarten was upon us. The first day was a shortened day where the students met the teachers and the parents stayed to fill out paper work. We went to this shortened day and all was well. On the second morning, as we headed off to school, Snags told me that “At least they don’t have fire alarms in the classrooms!” It seems he’d scoped out the surroundings and noted that the alarm bells were outside the classroom doors. “Maybe if they have a fire drill it won’t be so loud” he said.
“Don’t worry, Snags!” I told him. There’s no way they’d have a fire drill on the 2nd day of school! That’d be crazy!” I scoffed. And as usual, I saw Snags relax a little.
But I was wrong…
When I picked Snags up from his after school care after his second day of school (his first FULL day of Kindergarten) he ran to me and said “I have something to tell you!”
“Okay, what is it?” I asked.
“Not until we’re in the car!” he said.
So we gathered his lunch box and his back pack and left for the car. Once he was strapped in his booster seat, I sat in the driver’s seat with the car door open and turned to him and said “So, what was it you wanted to tell me?” and he said through gritted teeth “Shut. The. Door!”
“Okay,” I sighed, beginning to worry what he could possibly have to tell me that was so secret the car door had to be shut.
I turned back to him. “Okay, what is it?”
“We. Had. A. Fire. Drill. Today!” He said.
I realized then it was highly unlikely that he would ever trust me again.
Then he went on to explain that during the morning announcements, right after they said The Pledge of Allegiance, the Principal announced that they would be having a fire drill.
“Where you scared?” I asked.
“YES!” Snags replied.
“Did you tell your teacher you were scared and what did she say?” I asked.
“She said it would be okay.” He said.
Snags told me how the class practiced lining up and going outside for the impending fire drill. In place of a real alarm, his teacher made a “beep beep” sound and when she did that, the class had to line up and evacuate to the playground. But they weren’t allowed to play. And then the teacher said the practice was over and they all got to go back inside the building.
Later in the afternoon the Principal came on the loudspeaker again. This time she was ready to actually have the fire drill. She gave the children a one-minute warning. I think they may have counted down. And then, right as the alarm was about to sound, Megan, Oh Megan the child who pulled the fire alarm when she was a baby, screamed “EVERYONE COVER YOUR EARS!”
So Snags was prepared. He knew the alarm was coming. He even knew when to cover his ears and line up and go outside.
He wasn’t THAT scared. He survived.
“But NEXT time,” he told me in a bit of a worried voice, “They aren’t going to WARN us! The Principal said this was the last warning and next time it will be a surprise fire drill!”
And I find it hard to reassure him. I can tell him not to worry. I can tell him it will be okay, because it’s true. I just can’t tell him it won’t be today. Or tomorrow…
Author’s note: Snags’ elementary school had that “surprise” fire drill TODAY. Tonight, a child who looks like Snags and acts like Snags, but most certainly cannot BE Snags, said to me “I LIKE fire drills!” Upon further inquiry, the imposter child stated that his reason for liking fire drills is “…because we get to go outside!” and also because “…elementary school fire drills don’t frighten me as much as the ones at daycare did…”
And that’s the first step in denial and why I had to get the entire fire drill story down. Because one day, most probably in the near future, this kid of mine will swear he never had a fear of fire drills, that I didn’t spend an entire year asking the daycare center director on a daily basis if there was going to be a fire drill that day.
So whether Snags is 7 or 15, 23 or 30 when he denies this all ever happened, I can say “Oh yes it did! Here, read this. THIS is how it all went down!”