Fear or Awareness?

We were finishing dinner at a friend’s house when we heard a helicopter buzzing low. Across a busy Los Angeles intersection we could see police cars blocking the entrance to our street and several others nearby. Officers searched cars as they approached. I walked over to see if our house was okay. The officers said we wouldn’t be going home anytime soon because police had caught 2 out of 3 men involved in a burglary ring and that one man with a gun was still on the loose, possibly hiding in the backyard of one of the houses.

CicLAvia in Los Angeles April 2013 (photo by Yvonne Condes)

On the walk back, I tried to figure out what I would say to my kids. They saw the helicopter and knew something was up. I feel like I’m the harbinger of doom and gloom these days. The weekend before, we went to CicLAvia, a bike festival in Los Angeles that blocked 15 miles of streets for riders, but not until I sat my kids down and had a talk.

It was the weekend after the Boston bombings and CicLAvia was expected to attract at least 100,000 people. It was a huge event and I wanted to make sure that my boys, who are 7 and 9, were prepared in case anything happened. “If you hear a loud noise and see smoke try to get far away from it. Ride your bike as fast as you can down a side street. Stay together especially if you can’t find me and Dad.” This led to a thousand questions that my husband and I quietly answered. I had a similar talk after the shooting in an Aurora Colorado movie theatre and after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. “Stay Down. If You Can, Run Away. Listen to Your Teacher.”

My intention was not to scare them, but make them aware.

The day of the fugitive search in our neighborhood, I had just come from a book club organized by MomsLA with the author Loni Coombs for her book “You’re Perfect…And Other Lies Parents Tell: The Ugly Truth About Spoiling Your Kids.” Loni is a former prosecutor who noticed a trend of over protective parents raising children who are ill equipped to survive in the world. The kids didn’t take any responsibility for their actions and they weren’t independent because they never had to do anything for themselves.

I asked her if I had done the right thing in talking to my kids. I didn’t want to scare them, but they already have some awareness of what is going on in the world. When the Boston bombs went off, my 7 year old asked if it was an atomic bomb sent by North Korea. I vowed not let NPR play in the background during breakfast and all car rides, but I do think they should have an idea of what’s happening in the world and they should be prepared.

Loni said that the goal of talking to them is not to scare them, but give them the information they need to be safe. That makes sense, but it’s so hard in practice to know where the real dangers might actually lie.

Earlier that same morning I had chosen to just keep my boys away from another situation I felt could potentially be unsafe. I did a half marathon that started and ended in one of the most popular spots in Los Angeles. I didn’t want to worry about where they were or what could happen, so they stayed home.

I made a decision to keep them safe by having them stay home and then remarkably, in our neighborhood, on our street, possibly in our own backyard was where the danger came to be.

That evening, my boys borrowed pajamas from their friends and they slept on the couch. I snuggled up with my older son and he asked when we could go home. At 10:30 p.m. we were escorted to our house by a police officer who watched until we got inside and locked the door.

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