The shooting tragedy in Aurora, Colorado has parents like me thinking a lot about sending our kids to the movies. What we might have done yesterday probably won't be what we will do tomorrow.
I let our 12-year-old daughter go to the movies "alone" with a friend for the first time a couple of months ago. To say I was a nervous helicopter parent would be an understatement.
I went to the theater with them, bought the tickets, escorted them to the appropriate screen and left. Now, I didn't leave the building -- the theater is in a small shopping mall. My daughter had her cell phone and I had mine. She and her friend knew the rules -- stay in that theater unless they had to go to the bathroom, I was nearby if they needed me and I'd be there to pick them up after the show and their popcorn and Junior Mint-fest.
I knew they were bound to be safe. Logically, I understood that the odds were overwhelmingly in my favor that they would sit through their summer show and pop out at the appointed time, chatting and giggling and wondering how to split up the leftover snacks. I understand I have to let my daughter have experiences like that -- learning bit by bit to exercise her judgment and show us her responsibility, but I still wasn't entirely at ease with this arrangement. Other middle-school friends have longer leashes -- some already ride the city bus by themselves. I still won't let our daughter walk the one mile from our house to her best friend's house alone, even during the day and even if she's carrying her phone.
I'm just not sure she's ready. I know the odds are that nothing bad will happen if I give her more space. I acknowledge that I did a lot more when I was her age (back in the dinosaur days, as she likes to say) than she's allowed to do now. And I grasp that the likelihood of something bad happening in those instances is small. But for me, that doesn't matter. I know it makes her embarrassed because her best friend is allowed to take the family dog for a walk to their small, neighborhood market alone. Yet I can't help worrying if my tween is along -- what if they forget to look for traffic? What if they look, but someone is barreling through the 25-mile-an-hour neighborhoods at 45 mph and blow through a stop sign while they're in the crosswalk?
I didn't think I was a helicopter parent until my daughter became a middle-schooler, but now I see that maybe my hovering will be increasing, rather than decreasing, in the wake of the recent mass shooting outside of Denver.
As I suggested in my six tips to new Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer, we think if we survive the parenting crises of young childhood with our kids, we're past the worst part. But no one is going to have to explain to their newborns what happened at the opening midnight show of the latest Batman movie in that Denver suburb. While PunditGirl hasn't heard the news yet, she will soon. Getting our collective heads around this latest horror and how something like that can happen in the world is hard enough for us as adults, let alone for our children who are just starting to pay attention to the news and who are anxious about making their way in a world where random evil happens.
[T]he roots of our foreboding lie in the days that make this one feel eerily familiar. We have watched this loop before, in Colorado, and Virginia, and Arizona, and Toronto. And while, on the one hand, we hear that the odds of a crazed gunman's bullet finding its mark in our children is infinitesimal, as is the likelihood of abduction while walking to school for the first time, or sexual molestation by a stranger we trust to be alone with them, on the other hand we know the names of the children to whom that has happened.
We also know that while we are being reassured that the world is basically safe, and we are overreacting to the dangers, somehow a series of lunatics keep finding a way to get guns and aim them at our kids.
So somehow my husband and I, like so many other parents around America, will be explaining to our kids who are old enough to understand -- and who need to start developing a sense of wariness when it comes to their surroundings -- about the people who just wanted to see a movie and were killed by someone with an evil, random plan. I know our 12-year-old is going to ask for assurance that something like that can never happen to her and would never happen where we live.
And I know there will be nightmares and much more anxiety to come for her when neither I nor her dad can make her that promise.
Joanne Bamberger is the author of the Amazon.com bestseller, Mothers of Intention: How Women and Social Media are Revolutionizing Politics in America (Bright Sky Press). Joanne, a Washington, D.C.-based writer and political/media analyst, is the founder of the political blog, PunditMom.