Lockdown: My Story for My Son

Someday Eli will ask me about this. And I want to write this while it’s still fresh, while I have another blog post halfway done dealing with the incredible emotions I dealt with on Monday and yet another post half done about some big news the Spencers are cooking up.  Today happened before I could even process any of that. Here’s what it was like in our corner of the world:

On the morning of April 19, we woke up to a text from your Auntie Sara that first told us about the order to stay inside. We were already pretty jumpy after the bombings that had happened a few days earlier, especially because I wasn’t in Boston when that had happened and it was so hard to be away from you and Daddy then.  The first thing Daddy and I did when we got Auntie Sara’s text was check Twitter, where our friends quickly provided information. It turns out that while we had slept safe and sound, nearby the whole night had been filled with guns and explosions and fear. One of the suspects from the bombing was killed. And another man, a young police officer, was killed. You know what’s weird? Those two men were the same age. What is it that makes one human being turn one way and another human being another? Fate? Experience? I sure don’t know. Someday when you’re older, let’s all sit and have drinks and talk about it. We won’t solve it, but it’s an important thing to try to know.

At any rate, brave men and women did their very tough jobs and let us sleep. In the morning, so much was unknown. We knew that one of the suspects in the bombings was nearby, about a mile or two away. Now that may sound like a lot, but in Boston we’re used to walking many miles a day. I mean MANY. So two miles to me is pretty much a hop, skip, and jump. And let me tell you I was SCARED. I’ve never been so scared. All I could think was that this guy might be nearby, that he had fled on foot and was wandering the neighborhoods looking for a young family to kill to make a statement. You should know, your Momma has the mind of a horror film writer. Seriously.

Your school was closed, and we tried to make the best of the day, figuring they’d catch the bad guy early and we could look forward to some day drinking with friends around noon. But it didn’t happen. In fact, the story didn’t change from around 10am until later that night. The only amazing thing that happened during the day was that you fell asleep in the middle of eating lunch. I wish I’d thought to take a picture, but I just wanted you safe. Your eyes drooped, your head sagged toward the plate, a fistful of chicken (leftover smoked chicken from my birthday dinner two nights prior) still halfway to your mouth.

The truth is if you picked up on our tension at all, you didn’t act like you knew. You were well-behaved, and fun and funny, and you were fairly patient anyway with not being able to “go.” You did grab a fleece hoodie later in the afternoon, in the hopes we’d realize you were ready. “Go?” you’d say, standing by the gate on the stairs. No, baby. We can’t go. But how do you tell a nearly 18 month old about the concept of a citywide lock down?

Our neighborhood of Brighton was on lock down all day. Just before dinner they lifted the lock down although they had no suspect. We didn’t feel much safer, so we just kept moving ahead with dinner. We saw lots of people moving around on the streets, but so many of us were even more scared now. And just as you were finishing dinner, around 7 or so, I saw a journalist I followed on Twitter say, “SHOTS FIRED. SHOTS FIRED IN WATERTOWN.” And I’ve met this guy, had beers with him, and knew him to be a reliable source so I called your Daddy into the room. We watched Twitter, and then on the TV they were saying the same thing. And as they -reported we heard more shots – POP. POPPOPPOPPOPPOP.  – and I was so so scared. I was scared that someone else would die, when I hoped no one else would. I was scared this would drag out another night with more deaths. And I was very scared that, because there were reports the bad guy was wearing a suicide vest (that means he built a bomb onto his body and would blow it and himself up before talking to authorities) I was scared it would be powerful enough to hurt us in the adjacent town.

Because I was so scared and sticking close to the news somehow made me feel better, your Daddy gave you a bath and put you to bed. I came in to read part of a story and kiss you goodnight. And just as you finally gave up fighting sleep and calmed down and I heard your Daddy coming down the hall to the living room, I heard cheering outside and I checked Twitter and someone tweeted, “IT’S OVER.” And suddenly the news and Twitter and everything was alive with the sounds of, “He’s captured. He’s alive. It’s over.”

Something you should know about Boston: we love our sports teams. Even if you’re not a fan all year, you can join the cheering at the end and everyone publicly (maybe not privately) appreciates your bandwagon support. When you cheer for a team in Boston, you feel like a part of a deep, trusting, amazing community. You feel like you belong, like you feel blessed, like you are part of something bigger than yourself. And that’s exactly how we felt tonight.

While you slept, your Daddy and I opened a bottle of champagne and toasted in the hopes that no one in our family ever would know the fear we’d felt today. Your Auntie Stefanie and Uncle Paul asked if we wanted to join them at the local bar, and when we said we couldn’t leave you alone they took turns – first I went and then after 2 beers they dropped me off and picked up your Daddy. So many of our friends were there, most of them from Brighton. On the way there three buses drove by marked “Boston Police” and we all cheered and honked. The bar we went to was across the street from the police station (and from a hospital that earlier that day had treated 15 officers who were injured the night before) and people were gathered on every corner, cheering when the police arrived at the station.

Tonight while I type in our quiet apartment, you fast asleep and having no idea what’s going on, I can’t help but think about what we’ll learn and take with us as permanent changes in our lives. Here is what I’ve learned this week. The lessons I’m about to tell you are ones I knew, and do know, but the things you think you won’t forget and promise not to, you do. You get more complacent, you let other things take priority, but when something like this happens you remember them and wonder how you ever let them fall by the wayside:

1. No life is worth more than others. Now there will be some in your life who will connect that to the beginning of life, but that’s a discussion for a different day. I want you to know that when a bad guy or girl dies, it’s ok to feel relief that they can’t hurt anyone anymore but it’s not ok to be happy that they’re dead. It doesn’t matter how terrible a person is, never celebrate a death. Please remember that. Be happy and celebrate an end of a reign of terror, be joyful that you and your loved ones are safe and alive, but always be respectful and remember that no matter how evil a person is, somewhere a mother or friend or uncle is confused and sad and mourns them.

2. Thank the helpers. Police officers, firefighters, emergency personnel, soldiers – these are people who often make less money than you will, but who will run into flames and gun fire and blood to offer their specialized skills to save lives. They can’t choose what lives they save. They can’t choose to protect themselves and their families. And they do this because they love it, because they are good at it, because it means something to them. They do it so you don’t have to, and so you can focus on protecting yourself and your family. Their job is to make sure no one bothers you while you do that. If they ask you to do something, always do it. And thank them at every chance you get. Never let them pay for a drink in any bar, anywhere, ever.

3. Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than open your mouth and remove all doubt. All day there was so much speculation, online and on the TV news. Terrible stuff, people guessing and giving opinions as fact. People listening to police communications and broadcasting them to the whole world. It made it harder for the police to work, it made scared people more scared, and it preyed upon already sensitive emotions. My job right now is to say the right thing at the right time, and I tend to err on the side of caution. If you have nothing factual to contribute, nothing kind to say, you stay quiet lest you offend someone who is in a different emotional state than you. I saw some terrible arguing over Twitter among people I really admire, sometimes because news is fast and may not be right the first time around and sometimes because healing processes are in direct opposition to each other and what one person needs to heal may be very upsetting to another. Just remember – when in doubt, bite your tongue, and trust your thoughts privately to people you trust or to your own journal.


It’s time for me to go to bed now, finally I hope I find some rest. The wind is really whooshing through our windows, which is cool because up until this afternoon we had plastic over them to keep out the winter chill. Today was the warmest day of the year and you helped us remove the plastic, open the windows, and let in some fresh air and freedom even while we stayed locked at home in fear of a bad guy. This has been a long-winded way of saying that no matter how terrible or evil something is, there is always a spot of joy. Find that and focus on it. Remember we love you always. 

By Jennifer Spencer

I'm a storyteller, food lover, book collector, and a Southerner at heart. I love connecting people.