Scooby Doo ended while I was blow-drying my hair. I had turned on the 24-minute cartoon as a distraction while I hurriedly got ready for a family birthday dinner Sunday night.
I didn't hear that hard-to-shake melody that signals the end of the Scooby episode, as my blow dryer was too loud. With sweat dripping down my clean face, I walked out to the living room unaware that On Demand television had flashed back to the cable station it was on prior to the cartoon.
I was amazed to see that my three children were sitting separately on the couch, glued to the screen. What caught my eye first was that nobody was in a headlock or obnoxiously using his or her feet against another in a territorial effort to gain a larger spot on the couch. There they sat still and quiet, wide-eyed and shocked, as they watched Inside Edition’s haunting rendition of the mass theater shooting that took place Friday in Aurora, Colo., during the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises.
I don't allow my kids to watch the news. It's a huge irony as I am a classic news junkie. I love the news; thrive on reading it and blossom while writing it. But I cannot bear to let my children see the harsh world out there – they are much too young to grasp a reasonable understanding of any given news story. They are still plagued by fears of the dark, loud sounds and scary images that exist in such shows as Scooby Doo or Shrek. So we curb their access and have done a pretty good job of it… up until now.
I am certain they saw the introductory segment that briefly reviewed the story, but the part that playing when I entered the room was a ' what to do' segment of the story, known in the news industry as a sidebar or news counterpart. These tangential pieces present a different angle from the actual news story itself. I always thought of these segments as the pedals of the flower – the main news story being the flower’s pistil.
This particular sidebar featured a former New York police officer that walks a reporter through the steps a moviegoer should take if they find themselves face to face with a gunman in a movie theater. The segment was taped in a makeshift theater, clad with movie seats and two other actors, seemingly the crowd, sitting alongside the reporter pretending to watch a movie. The police officer offers suggestions like hiding behind a curtain to make yourself invisible or sliding your body to the floor to hide. Knowing your exits and sitting near them was another tip.
I casually turned off the TV, but those five minutes of news was all it took for my kids’ questions to roll in. And surprisingly, the questions had more to do with the safety in movie theaters than the 12 innocent lives lost and well more than 50 lives interrupted by the deranged Joker on a killing spree.
“I’m never going to the movies again,” my cautious daughter said.
“Why was the guy so mad at all those people? Did he know them -- why did he go to the movies?” my eldest and very cerebral son asked.
“Why didn’t Batman save those peoples,” my youngest son muttered.
All of these insights were well positioned. I understood where each child stood. But I really had few answers.
What I did realize is how frustrated I was with the story. This story, like 911 or any other large-scale traumatic event, shakes our safety and makes us all feel vulnerable. Hearing stories of mothers not being able to locate their children and in some cases not being able to save their children, families ripped apart, innocent lives lost and people forever scarred either by injury or memory. It’s all so senseless.
I am usually so quick to come back with an answer to soothe my kids’ fears and to appropriately answer their questions. I seek out the teaching aspect, hoping to capitalize. But this one had me stumped… saddened and stumped and irritated.
I sighed a big sigh and used my best comic book imagination to create a scenario that my kids could understand. Batman was defeated and the city paid dearly for that. But in a couple of years everybody will heal, and the city will learn some new lessons and create some safeguards to not let it happen again. The questions ceased, as it was crafted similarly to one of the many Batman Returns cartoons they’ve watched.
It’s only been a couple days but I haven’t heard any requests for a Batman cartoon. He’s usually a here in our house but these days it appears he’s our scapegoat.