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The Play Date That Ended With a Gun

Photograph by Twenty20

I’m the first to admit I have some helicopter parent tendencies when it comes to leaving my daughter with people I don’t know. The need to overprotect is a remnant of my past—things that happened to and around me in homes that seemed plenty respectable on the outside. I know better than most that it takes more than a few passing conversations at school pickup and drop-off to gauge who you can trust with your child.

So, when the requests for drop-off play dates began when my daughter was in preschool, I found myself routinely in the awkward position of looking for excuses. We were busy, we had plans, we were heading out of town—I deflected those requests left and right, reasoning that in preschool, my daughter didn’t really need to be spending weekend time with the friends she saw all week.

But then came an invite from a mom I’d actually enjoyed talking to on a handful of occasions. We seemed to have a lot in common and our daughters adored each other. Plus, she wasn’t just inviting me to drop my daughter off—she was inviting us both over to play and visit.

It seemed like the perfect scenario: a chance to dip my introverted toes into the world of getting to know the parents of my daughter’s friends, and the opportunity for my little girl to play with one of her friends outside of school without my having any anxiety about her safety.

If only it had actually gone that smoothly.

The play date started off well enough. The girls immediately ran upstairs, elated to see each other, and the mom and I began chatting about some of our shared interests. Their home was well-maintained and clean, and I really didn’t see any reason for concern. Until I thought to ask the question I know I should always ask, living in a state as gun-friendly as ours.

“I hope you aren’t offended by my asking this,” I said. “But with the girls running around upstairs, you don’t have any guns that are out where they could get to them, do you?”

It wasn’t an accusation or a judgment. I pretty much expect everyone I encounter here to own a gun. My main concern is whether or not those guns are properly stored. And after having spent just a little bit of time with this mom, I fully expected her to say, “Oh yeah, we have guns—but they’re in the safe.”

My child, who has never been around a gun in her life, had been running in and out of a room where a loaded weapon was completely accessible to her.

Instead, she said, “Oh, you know what?” And then she stood and headed upstairs, not urgent or concerned.

I followed, mostly because I didn’t know what else to do, only to see her duck into the master bedroom, which the girls had been running in and out of, and pick up a gun that had been sitting on top of the dresser. It was in full view, easily in reach of the kiddos.

“I’m sorry!” she said, as if this were really no big deal at all. “I really should have moved this up before you guys came over.”

I stood there, trying my hardest to keep my jaw from hitting the floor, more than a little freaked out and unsure of how to react to this situation.

I didn’t want to be rude, but nothing about this was OK. My child, who has never been around a gun in her life, had been running in and out of a room where a loaded weapon was completely accessible to her.

I’d been so sure I was doing everything right—so convinced I’d found a parent I could like and trust with my little one—that we had already been discussing potential drop-off play dates for the future.

It was everything I could do to get through the next 20 minutes with a smile on my face before politely removing my daughter and myself from the situation.

In that 20 minutes, this mom went on to reveal that her husband was an alcoholic and they’d been fighting for some time, which wasn’t something I judged her for, but was something that indicated a situation I wouldn’t exactly want to leave my daughter alone in.

The whole thing was unnerving. When we finally left, it was with an even deeper resolve on my part that the drop-off play date would never happen for my girl.

I don’t know what the future holds, and there may be a point in time when I need to loosen my grip a little on this stance. But the reminder that I can never truly be sure what goes on in the homes of the kids my daughter becomes friends with stood out loud and clear.

So, no, unless I’ve spent plenty of time in your home myself, my daughter probably won’t be coming over without me.

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