Today was my eldest child’s first day of school. He’s in first grade! We woke up excited and eager to escort him to his classroom, so much so that my husband even took the morning off so we could both meet there to see him start his first day of elementary. When I entered his little Guam Public School, I could not help but grin. I love our island’s children. The Pacific is stamped all over them, in the way they walk, talk, and joke with each other. They’re a particular brand of sneaky, happy, and funny that I have never seen anywhere else; and I love it. It makes me grateful to be a daughter of Guam. I waved to friends who were happily dropping their children and loved the happy back-to-school buzz filling the humid hallways. I loved the sound of chickens making noise in the grassy areas around the school. I loved the kids talking to a boonie dog through a chain link fence, and I even loved the scared little faces of students with tear-streaked faces resisting their first day of school.
As I guided my child up the stairs toward his new classroom, a woman with a camera crew stopped me. I’m wary of the media. You never know how they’re going to frame and edit you to fit their narrative. I am still bruised from past interviews with media about family land issues and the possible use of ancestral land for military buffer zones. Everyone wants our stories. Everyone wants to help us “tell the world what’s happening here.”
“Excuse me! Can I ask you a few questions about the first day of school?” the woman asked.
I paused, knowing much is happening on our island and not feeling like talking about it.
“About the kids? And the first day of school?” I asked, double checking.
My son was excited about the camera and looking up with curiosity. The woman gave me a friendly smile and affirmed that “yes,” it was just “questions about the children and their first day of school.”
I smiled and agreed. She asked me about the grade my child was entering and if he was excited. We proudly announced that it was first grade and we were excited because he’s officially in elementary school. She was warm and friendly and I was starting to have fun sharing about my son’s first day of school, even thinking how cool it would be to have this moment captured.
Then I froze, unprepared and stunned by her next question.
“With the threats from North Korea, have you spoke to your son about what to do if there is an attack?”
My heart raced. I stared blankly at the camera, smiling like a Stepford wife. “How to prepare?” I asked again, nervous. “Yes. Are you prepared? Is your son prepared?” I looked down at my son, who I haven’t discussed a possible bomb on the first day of school with. Why would I ruin his first day by bringing up the possibility of a Nuclear attack while away from his parents?
“No. No I did not talk to him.”
Desperate and reaching for words, I eeked out something about having faith and just trying to have a normal day. I said something about our island being threatened many times before and just doing our best, about how there was no real way to “prepare” for a Nuclear attack, about it not being like a typhoon or an earthquake. A nuclear attack…what could we possibly do that would really protect us?
The woman nodded, still smiling. I looked up the stairs at my husband, who had somehow escaped the reporter and was looking down at us. I suddenly felt like bolting. The hallway looked so long.
“What about the school? Do you feel the school is equipped and prepared in the case of an attack from North Korea? Has anything been done to help prepare you to leave your child here? Is the school ready?”
My mind was racing. I had no real answers. I looked at the school. It was a small village school with happy, but old classrooms. I thought about the “comfort kit” his teacher asked for. I have sent him with a “comfort kit” containing a favorite snack and extra water. I remind myself not to say that, because I will sound like an idiot.
“What do you think should be done to prepare?”
I am no expert on Nuclear attacks. I was literally just trying to get my kid to the first grade.
“I don’t think we can prepare,” I say nervously. I tell her, while sweating profusely, that I just hope these threats force us to look at why we are in this position in the first place and that we look at our relationship with the United States. My son was holding my hand, confused. He has heard people talking about North Korea, but I have never mentioned an actual Nuclear attack to him; and now that we were being asked about it, I felt as if I were hiding some dirty secret from him. The woman thanks me and asks how to spell my name. She asked how long I have lived on Guam.
“All my life. I am Chamoru,” I tell her awkwardly, trying to remember if I had just said anything embarrassing and struggling to recall the words I had blurted out only seconds ago. I ask her if that is all and she thanks me. I walked up the stairs to my husband, overwhelmed and suddenly anxious. “What was that about?” he asked.
“It was weird. Just awkward.”
I brushed it off, trying to focus on why we were there: my son’s first day. We sat in front of his classroom, talking to other parents. I watched my boy closely, hoping the conversation with the reporter did not plant any worrisome thoughts in his head. When his teacher opened the door, he rushed in with excitement. He claimed a blue chair, happily approached friends from the last school year, and we took pictures in a Dr. Seuss “selfie frame” the teacher had made. I stayed as long as possible before my son gently reminded me I could go. I gave him a hug, reminded him to be good, and took one last glance at him while exiting the classroom.
While leaving, I saw the principal. I asked where the news crew was from and why they were here, she tried to respond before the explanation emerged in front of me. It was our Governor, smiling happily and escorting his grand child to the first day of school. Another parent whispered in my ear from the side “he arranged for the foreign news team to come film today. Media opportunity to show that we’re all fine and everything is business as usual.” I nod quietly, staring at him waving and making a spectacle in the hallway. I quickly wiggle past the news team and our Governor, thinking of my son and turning around to look down the hallway again. The reporter’s questions kept replaying in my mind: “Are you prepared? What will you do if there is an attack at school? Have you talked to him? Do you feel safe leaving him?”
I didn’t have any of the answers for those questions. Didn’t North Korea say they would back off if the American President chilled out? Did he chill out? I don’t know. They’re all entrenched in the Nazi racist stuff over there. Are we okay now? Were we ever okay? Isn’t Guam always in danger as long as the U.S is here? I didn’t know the answers to some of those questions. I still don’t. All I know is that I left my son. I left him there without any of those answers, and when I see him after school, I cannot wait to find out what his first day was like and hug him. I hope he gets through a single day at school without having to hear talk of war and possible danger. I hope he reads lots of books, plays lots of games, and gets into a healthy amount of trouble; and this is my wish for all our island’s children. I wish all our children a day without war hanging over them.