Keeping Your Children Safe by Sharon O’Donnell

We are all heartbroken and shocked over what happened at the movie theater in Colorado. We look at the reports on TV and empathize with the family members and friends of victims interviewed. The fact that it was in a movie theater of all places intensifies the disbelief because our children have probably all been in a movie theater before. As a matter of fact, my two oldest sons were at the Dark Knight Batman movie premier on Thursday night at midnight also — of course that was Eastern Standard Time, while Colorado goes by mountain time. By the time I knew of the events in Colorado, it was morning, and my sons were already home safe and sound. Still, the fact that they were at the same event — just not at the same place — is enough to send extra chills down my spine. My oldest son is a huge movie fan; when he was a sophomore in high school and too young to drive, I accompanied him to a midnight James Bond premier, knowing that movies were one of his biggest passions. He’d bought tickets for the Batman premiere with college buddies weeks ago, while my middle son, age 18, bought tickets just a day before the show when he and some of his friends decided to attend.

Ironically, earlier on the day of the shooting, my 18-year-old, David, said some of his friends were going to go to a river about 30 miles away where there was a rope swing. He wanted to know if he could go too. David and his friends have done lots of things together from soccer games to Frisbee to swimming to trampolines, to golf. Some of them played on the same high school baseball team as David, so they are used to playing together. I kind of get the sense that they are all so busy doing these things this summer because it is the last summer before college, the last summer that perhaps they will all be around in this area to do these things together. I was glad they’ve been having fun together. But going to jump in a river with currents and no lifeguard nearby? This gave me pause, especially since there had been 3 drownings at other rivers in the past several weeks. I knew my son was 18, but I was still his parent. I told him I didn’t want him to go, to which he replied, “Please, Mom.” I just didn’t feel right about it. “David,” I told him, “I don’t feel comfortable with it, and I need you to respect that.” And he did. He hung around the house until he went to meet his friends around 10:30 to go to the movie premiere.

And that’s the thing. I was so uptight about the river, and then the shootings happened in Colorado at a movie theater — a place I never worried about being safe. As a parent, that makes me feel very out of control because I can no longer tell where it’s safe and where it’s not safe. So how do I fulfill my responsibilities as a parent? I can’t stop my sons from experiencing life and having fun, but at the same time, I want them to use good judgement and make wise decisions. However, making wise decisions is sometimes not enough to keep safe. Instead, safety seems to be random, seems to be for those who are ‘lucky’. It is a hard thing for anyone to accept, but for parents, it goes against everything our instincts tell us to do in protecting our children.

That hurts. So as we watch the terrible shooting events unfold on TV, we empathize with the parents who have lost children, knowing how incredibly empty they must feel. But to show my own children the you still have to live life, I took my youngest son to see the Batman movie the night after the shootings. But that night I have to admit, when the regular announcement was played about locating the exits nearest you, I looked around and did so and even planned in my mind what I would do if I needed to get my son out of there quickly. And then I settled back in my seat to watch Batman’s tales in Gotham, where even there it’s sometimes hard to tell who the good guys and bad guys are.

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