Ever think about what it really means that we are parenting in a world where it’s completely necessary to teach our children what to do in case someone enters the the building with a gun? Something happened last week that left me more than a little freaked out. I haven’t talked about it on here because I didn’t know where to start. I wasn’t sure that I even wanted to talk about it because then I had to admit that it was real.
But then in the news I read that a couple people had been shot and murdered at our local Texas Roadhouse. It was a Sunday night. It’s a family restaurant. Can you imagine going out for dinner with your family and being caught in crossfire? Can imagine what you would do if you were sitting there with your child?
We’d all like to think that it would never happen to us. That mass shootings, or a madman on the loose with a firearm, happens someplace else; anywhere else. It just doesn’t happen here because then we would have to face our greatest fear every single time we walked out of the door. We’d have to accept that every moment outside the bubble of our home puts those we love most at risk. So we push it down, way down. We throw caution to the win and we don’t let the “terrorists” win (the terrorists being crazies with guns). But sometimes, it does happen here. There. To you. It can happen to any of us.
Last week, I was at the mall with my daughters and my mother-in-law school shopping. The sun was shining. The guys were at a thing and us girls, we were just having a relaxing day of buying things we needed to back-to-school and “mannequin shopping” (as my youngest refers to window shopping) for those things on our wish list. It was a day like so many others but not quite. We had no idea what was about to transpire.
We had hit all the stores we needed to hit and were hitting Sears as a last ditch effort to find the correct size in uniform shirts and shorts for my tall and thin children before we were going to let the girls go someplace they actually wanted to go…Claire’s and Justice. After much searching, we finally found some uniform polos that would work. As we neared the register, the littlest one tells me that she needs to go to the restroom. Of course she does, she always has to go to the restroom. I think she is secretly surveying all the bathrooms in the world. She’ll probably start some amazing yelp like service for toilets when she’s a tween but I digress. This is serious shit and I’m getting off track.
My mother-in-law stays in line with my oldest to pay and the little one and I go to the restroom. In case you were wondering, my girls are 9 and 11-years-old and, no, I still don’t let them go to the restroom unaccompanied because I simply don’t trust people. She went to one stall, while I went to another (hey, that’s progress) and then it happened.
I was washing my hands while she was still in the stall. I was chatting to her, letting her know that I was waiting outside the stall door. She was cracking jokes and laughing, as she is known to do. She is a really silly kid. I love that about her. Then we heard it, something off in the distance outside the women’s restroom door. Something like I’ve never heard before. It sounded like a child tantruming and very agitated but it was clearly an adult man. I could hear the tension escalation and nearing us.
I was really confused because when we had walked into the restroom, through the furniture section, there were three seemingly normal grown men sitting there. Yet, this howling, agitated screaming and shouting was getting louder and louder and I could hear arguing. My heart was racing. Oh my God, what’s about to happen?
These are the moments in parenting where you find out who you really are.
So, I started rapping on my daughter’s stall but I wasn’t saying anything because I didn’t want anyone outside the bathroom to know we were in there. I didn’t want to call attention to our location. Then in a panic, I whisper shouted, “Gabi, let me in. It’s mommy.” She did. I could see on her face that she was terrified. I tried to calm her with my eyes but I knew the voices were getting closer and louder and even more agitated with each step.
I pushed her to the back of the stall. I told her to be quiet and make herself small. Hide as best you can in a stall. I had no idea what was coming through that door. I feared it could be a man with a gun. I was terrified but not for me or my safety, but for my daughter; my littlest girl. All I could think of was those poor men trapped in the bathroom at Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
I readied myself for the worst. I positioned myself in between the door and my child and I braced it with all of my weight. I was looking through the crack in the stall when a huge, mentally challenged man came bursting through the door. He was pacing back and forth and hitting himself in the head; clearly agitated. He was hitting the stall door next to me. No one else was in there except for him and us. I wanted to cry and scream for help but I had to stay silent and keep my composure. He was out of control and not in his right mind.
Then, an elderly woman, I’m assuming his mother, burst into the bathroom. She grabbed him and tried to subdue him. Her eye caught mine looking through the slit in the stall. I’m sur she could see the terror in my eyes. She was tiny and he was massive. I wanted to help her but he was twice my size and while her concern was her child, mine was my own child. We stayed in there, silently hiding from this man for what seemed like forever. I’m sure it was only a few minutes.
I heard her talking to him with a mother’s love and trying to calm him down. She pulled him into the handicapped stall next to us. He was still screaming and howling and I could hear him hitting himself. I couldn’t even breathe but I had to stay strong for my daughter. Then, I heard the mom shut the stall door and tell him, “just stay here with me and breathe for a minute,” and I knew it was our chance.
I quietly opened the stall door, checked to make sure it was safe and slipped out with my daughter safely tucked behind me. I was a human shield, just in case, he flew back out of the stall agitated. My daughter was trembling, as I held her close to me. We got outside of the door and finally exhaled.
And there sitting, laughing, were the three grown men. The same men who watched me walk into the restroom with my little girl. The same men who saw this mentally deficient, unstable man flipping out and proceeded to watch him enter the restroom where my daughter and I were at, all the while doing nothing. The same men who watched as a frail, tiny elderly woman went in to face a huge, agitated and angry man. They laughed. My daughter was trembling and they laughed. The only reason I didn’t stop and say something to them was because I didn’t know if that man was going to come running out of the bathroom, still unstable. My priority was getting my daughter to safety. Instead, I went to the cashier and they sent security.
This is the world we live in. The world where grown man do nothing while a child is in danger. A world where no one, other than this man’s mother, thought it was enough to check on him, even though he was screaming, yelling and hitting himself. A world where my little girl cried when we got home because she was too scared to answer the door at first and she felt guilty. A world where my first thought was that someone was coming in to shoot us.