A Heartbreaking Sign of the Times

Momservation: It is a new frontier when you have to talk frankly with your kids not just about sex, but about how to survive a mass shooting.

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I almost cried right then and there. It was a heartbreaking sign of the times.

One second before we were laughing, giddy with the popcorn, soda, and candy encircling us. We were amped up on sugar, caffeine, and the adventure of our last minute decision to race to the movies to catch the last opening night showing of “Paper Towns.”

Suddenly there was a thunderous BOOM so close to us that initially you couldn’t tell if it was inside or outside. It didn’t scare me because I knew what it was.

At first I didn’t notice that my 14 year-old daughter, Whitney, and my 19 year-old nephew, Jake had frozen in terror.

“Mom?” Whitney said with a quiet fear in her tone that finally made me stop talking and look at her.

She and Jake were both staring at me eyes wide in panic—stone still like baby animals trying to blend into the prairie grass. They were looking to me to save them; to tell them what to do to not be ambushed by a predator.

As the pops and crackles continued just outside the theater, I realized what froze them in terror.

The predator they feared was a psycho with a gun in a movie theater.theater shooting

And unfortunately, after another theater shooting the night before to add to our nation’s disturbing regularity of mass shootings in normally safe havens, their fears were sadly valid.

“Oh, it’s okay you guys!” I quickly rushed to calm Whitney and Jake. “It’s just the State Fair. They end the fair on the weekends with fireworks. Where they shoot the fireworks from is right across the street.” They looked toward the fire exits where I pointed, then back at me still looking uneasy. “It’s only fireworks,” I reassured them.

Finally Whitney visibly exhaled. “Oh thank goodness! I thought it was something else.”

“Yeah, me too,” said Jake.

“’Cause if that’s what was going on, I was getting ready to run out that door,” said Whitney pointing toward the exit where the sound of fireworks filtered in like it was right outside the door.

I noticed neither of them seemed to want to give voice to what they thought it was—like Lord Voldemort from the Harry Potter series, such evil was too awful and too scary to be said aloud.

We all sat in silence, the festive mood killed. As the disturbing booms and crackles filled the theater so too did hot angry tears to my eyes. I hated that the reality of being slaughtered by a mad gunman in a movie theater was more real than any movie they’d ever see in one.

Instead of giving in to my anger at all the people to blame for this, I chose instead to empower my daughter and nephew. If this was their generation’s reality, then I was going to prepare them for it.

“Whitney. Jake…” I took a deep breath. Like talking to your kids about sex, hating to think it would one day be necessary knowledge, this too was a conversation you’d be a fool not to have by clinging to denial.

“Okay. If that were gunfire coming from the door you DO NOT run toward that exit.”

“But that’s the only way out,” Jake protested.

“No, it’s not,” I said turning and pointing to an emergency exit above and behind us. “Theaters have to have more than one exit. You want to go to the exit that is furthest away from the gunfire.”

“Oh, I didn’t see that one,” said Whitney.

“Me either,” Jake said.

What had once been the general rule in case of fire had garnered a new contingency: “Before the lights go down you should always look to see where the exits are.”

As the lights began to dim for the previews I added one last bit of guidance. “If you hear screaming or gunfire you drop to the floor, keep your heads down, and crawl to the closest exit away from the commotion.”

“Will do,” Jake said regaining his composure.

“Got it,” said Whitney.

It was a teachable moment I never wanted to have. I was grateful for the distraction of the movie. But as the booms crescendoed into its finale, Whitney leaned into me.

“Even though I know what it is now, it’s still disturbing.”

It is Whitney. It sadly is.


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