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Nancy Sharp Headshot

One Dark Night for Parents

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Like the rest of the world (Batman included), I am appalled and saddened and frightened by last night's killing spree at the Aurora Cinemas. You must understand... I live near this theater. I have been to this theater, alone, and with my young twins.

My husband and I were asleep when our son, Dylan, an incoming sophomore at the University of Colorado, stumbled into our room, terrified. It was not quite 4 a.m. "Something really bad happened at the Batman premiere," he tells us. "A lot of people were killed." Steve and I don't quite register the words -- we're in a groggy stupor -- and Dylan is saying something incomprehensible. Then I connect the fact that he went to a Batman premiere. But not this one, another one, minutes from the Aurora theater. Dylan is okay. He's standing before us. But he's literally shaking with fear.

Lights on, we rise. The three of us head downstairs to watch the news. Carnage. Chaos. Chemicals. Calamity. We're wide awake now, and can't turn our eyes from the television because the news is so awful and real and close. We are there for our son. It hardly matters that he's 19 and semi-independent, a grown, muscular boy. He needs us. We stay until we can't fight sleep any longer, however restless it is.

The e-mails and text messages arrive early, from London, New York City, Seattle, Los Angeles, Fairfield. "Are you okay? Is everyone alright?"

It turns out that a friend from Dylan's soccer team was at the Aurora theater. He's okay, as are the boy's friends. How lucky they are. Dylan hears the news through Facebook and Twitter.

Which brings me to now, hours after this dark night, to the numbness and horror daylight has brought. The world feels different today. I stare at the news online and cry. I cry for the victims and their families, for the senselessness and depravity of the crime and because the pleasurable, innocent act of going to the movies is forever tarnished. How can we possibly feel safe in a dark theater again? How can we trust the serious, distant expression on the stranger's face in the row ahead of us? What's that bag on his or her lap? How can we be sure there won't be a copycat reenactment (as happens)? Will theaters be required to have armed guards? Can we ever take our children to the theaters again?

The questions that rattle me deepest are these: What do we tell our children? How do we protect them from the unimaginable when the unimaginable does happen? And how do we quell their fears while encouraging them to still live and be and participate in the world?

I am mother to 11-year-old twins. Children who love going to the movies. No way did I want to tell my twins about the massacre in Aurora. My husband and I teamed together, even Dylan agreed that it was best not to worry them. What you don't know won't hurt you. Remember that adage?

Such wishful thinking, however, evaporated in the light of morning, because we quickly realized that the twins would surely find out -- from friends, at camp, on our street or maybe from the radio, Internet or television. It's impossible to shelter them from the tragedy, not one of this scale and only miles from our house.

So this morning I had a surreal conversation with my son, Casey, who is in a fencing camp with several older boys. No doubt he'd hear before his twin sister would; I wanted to be the one to tell him so that I could filter the news. While I did my best to soften and omit the gruesome details, the questions Casey fired back at me revealed a deeper understanding and the need to know. I answered him truthfully. Because he asked.

"I'm going to have nightmares" Casey says, grasping my hand. "I don't ever want to go to the movies again." And then... "Well, we know what Diane Sawyer's lead story is going to be tonight."

"Casey," I said, repeating the same words I'd been processing myself, "This was an isolated incident, a random act, a horrible thing that we can only hope will never take place again."

But I stopped short of saying what was innermost in my heart. Don't worry son, this won't ever happen to you.

Wake up world. Please. For the sake of our children.