It was the Saturday before Christmas and like most everybody else, my daughter and I were at the mall. We had our trip all mapped out: lunch in the food court (according to my daughter, they have the best pizza), Build-a-Bear for a gift for her BFF and then a visit to Santa. I knew it might be crowded but we were prepared. We were going to take our time and enjoy our girl’s day out.
And then things went terribly wrong.
We had finished lunch and had just walked into Build-a-Bear when the fire alarms in the mall starting going off and the lights began flashing. At first I really wasn’t that worried. I assumed it was a false alarm and we continued shopping. Then a clerk from the store approached me and told me we had to evacuate the store. Ok, no problem. I still wasn’t concerned.
But as we left the store and entered the mall, I panicked. People were screaming as they ran toward the exits. I quickly grabbed my daughter’s hand and we began running with the crowd. She kept asking me what was wrong and telling me she was scared. I told her just to keep holding my hand and I would keep her safe.
As we entered Macy’s to exit the mall, the gate to Macy’s closed behind us. We made it outside and started walking the distance to our car. As we approached our truck we encountered a woman who looked both terrified and confused. I asked her if she knew what had happened. She said she had been in Macy’s and that there was a shooter and then a loud explosion. I didn’t wait to hear any more details; we got in our car and got out of there.
Later that day we learned there hadn’t been a shooter at the mall, but there had been an explosion:
A tank had exploded in the food court and from there, panick ensued. I explained to my daughter what had really happened and tried to calm her fears. She said she was never going back to the mall (that actually made my husband happy) and then began asking all kinds of questions about fire and fire safety in our home. She became obsessed with making sure the Christmas tree lights were off anytime we weren’t in the family room.
We have had many conversations about fire safety since then and I think she might even be ready to go back to the mall. But me, I’m not so sure. I honestly don’t remember every being so scared and feeling so helpless. Keeping me safe is one thing, protecting my daughter is on a whole other level. In retrospect, I am pretty confident I overreacted and probably did my daughter more harm than good. But I don’t really know that I would do anything differently if I had to re-live the experience.
Before you have children you think you understand how much you will love your child but you can’t really know the depth of that love until you hold them for that first time. Your whole world changes. You will run like a crazy woman through the mall holding your child’s hand without even knowing why. You just will.