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May only mysteries and wonders await them

Pencil? ... Check.

Notebooks? ... Check.

Computer tablet? ... Check?

Escape route ... hiding places ... bullet-resistant backpack insert ...

One of the clearest memories of my early years was of standing by the window of the dining room, watching enviously as one of my older brothers headed off for school.

I was 4, and there was just something about his meeting up with the other older kids of the neighborhood and walking away down Gifford Street until they turned right onto Katharine Lee Bates Road (yes, THAT Katharine Lee Bates) and faded from view ... off to some magical land filled with mystery and wonder.

“Next year,” my mother would tell me. It was the longest year of my life, waiting to be 5, waiting for my own mysteries and wonders to begin.

The beginning of a school year should be a time of joy, not apprehension. Over the past 10 years, there have been 180 school shootings; according to Education Week, there were 24 shootings in in 2018 that resulted in deaths or injuries, and 8 over the first eight months of this year.

None of this should come as a surprise to any parent, school official or first responder. The only surprise in this climate is that none of this likely comes as a surprise to the kids sent off to school.

On Thursday, the Mail Tribune ran a front-page story about children be taught how to duck and cover beneath their desks in the event of not a shooter, but the eventual massive earthquake caused by the Cascadia Subduction Zone.

An earthquake is frightening enough for adults, never mind children ... but it is a threat that doesn’t present itself until it’s right on top of you. And when it attacks, it does so as a force of nature — society, metal illness, access to weaponry have no role in what will play out.

I’m old enough to have gone through the “duck and cover” drills of the early 1960s, when adults were bracing for the potential of a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union, launched from its bases on an island more than one of our presidents has quaintly called “Cuber.”

Our front-page story brought me back to that memory, a period of time wonderfully captured in the underrated film “Matinee” – which depicts the screening of what used to be called a “monster movie” in a Florida theater at the height of the Bay of Pigs fiasco.

Lawrence Woolsey, the film producer is told that, with the United States on red alert, people might be scared enough as it is.

“Exactly,” responds the producer. “What a perfect time to open a new horror movie. ... Millions of people looking over their shoulder, waiting for God’s other shoe to drop; never knowing if each kiss, each sunset, each malted milk ball might be their last.”

As we all know, the East Coast of America the Beautiful wasn’t destroyed in a nuclear war, my classmates and I didn’t have to duck, cover our heads between our knees (and kiss our butts goodbye) and it turns out that the children in the movie handle things far better than nearly all the adults orbiting their world.

Although, in “Mant!” (the movie within the movie), radiation turns a dentist into an ant ... as if dentists weren’t scary enough already.

But that is the simple nostalgia of youth, and Hollywood. As children across the country make their way to school this year, the biggest fear isn’t the rumblings of war or the tremors underground, it’s the inner turmoil beneath the surface of someone for whom nature and nurture have played a dirty trick.

In Ohio, reeling from this summer’s shooting in Dayton, the state has opened a “School Safety Center” charged with threat assessments and preventing shootings before they happen. Analysts will be scanning social media sites for posts that could be seen as threats toward schools; tip lines have been set up for neighbors to reporter suspicious activity about neighbors; and teachers and staff members will receive crisis reaction training.

Oregon’s Task Force on School Safety has a set of objectives which, among other efforts, will “examine models for existing protocols for school safety and incident response and consider whether standardized statewide school safety and incident response protocols would be appropriate.”

Well, this is Oregon, after all.

A $48 million project will turn Fruitport High School in Michigan into a shooter-resistant maze of curved hallways and barriers jutting out from walls — all intended to reduce sightlines for an attacker stalking hallways.

Teachers in Jefferson County, Colorado, meanwhile, have been supplied with buckets filled with cat litter — to be used as rudimentary porta-potties during extended school lockdowns.

And then there are the backpack inserts, sales of which are spiking again as they did after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. The inserts, which cost a couple hundred bucks and can protect areas up to 12 inches by 18 inches, fall into the “we have to do something, anything” category of trying to prevent tragedy.

One, from Spartan Armor Systems, even comes imprinted with the company’s logo — a mash that combines elements of warrior and superhero ... signifying confidence and strength, I suppose, as parents slide them in next to their child’s gym shorts.

“You think grown-ups have it all figured out,” Lawrence Woolsey asks the child protagonists of “Matinee.” “That’s just a hustle, kid. Grown-ups are making it up as they go along, just like you. ... You remember that, and you’ll be fine.”

When I was 4 years old, I’d watch out the window in envy as my brother joined the neighbor kids and headed off to school, a place of mystery and wonder.

“Next year,” my mother would tell me. “Next year.”

Mail Tribune copy desk chief Robert Galvin can be reached at rgalvin@rosebudmedia.com.