Sue Klebold: There But For Fortune

I know three women whose sons are in prison, two for having committed murder.

These women are intelligent, kind, wise to the ways of the world, contributors to society. They look to me, each one of them, like they had to have been very good mothers. They seem wholesome and cheerful, exemplary, what anyone would want in a mother.

True, maybe each one was evil behind closed doors. Sure, we can’t tell the whole story by looking at someone. Of course, we can’t judge a book by its cover. And Lord knows, we all have our covers. All of us mothers have our public selves and our private selves. And we are different mothers to different children. The mother of the first born child is a different mother than the mother of the third or fourth or fifth. We age, we change, we modify ourselves and our thinking. In the end, each mother has a thousand permutations. Even so, these three women have always seemed to me to be solid, clear-headed, compassionate mothers.

So what happened?

I don’t know.

I do know that I’ve imagined myself in their shoes more than once. And not because my sons were violent or criminal. They were just boys, then teenage boys and then young adult men and every time the phone rang late at night, I was paralyzed with fear that something terrible had happened. That they had caused something terrible to happen.

Were my fears unfounded?

Yes, I guess they were. But that’s probably what the three women I know whose sons are in prison thought as well. And Dylan Klebold’s mother, Sue Klebold, thought. She saw herself as a normal, run of the mill, mother with a normal, run of the mill, son until he wasn’t, something she only knew after the murders her son committed at Columbine.

I remember, in 1999, the rush to blame her. The thinking, which is almost always the thinking when something goes wrong with a child, was that something terrible had occurred with his upbringing. His mother had to have done something wrong because if she did something wrong and we can figure out what that was then we can avoid doing that thing and avoid having our child murder a dozen beautiful young people in a school library on an April afternoon.

The painful possibility is that maybe Dylan Klebold’s mother didn’t do something wrong. If we think that, though, we enter the world of random occurrence, the sickening, head-spinning world of “Anything Can Happen.” None of us wants to go there so we keep looking for causes and reasons, things we can avoid, ways that we, as mothers, can be more perfect, make even fewer mistakes.

I’m buying Sue Klebold’s book tonight, A Mother’s Reckoning, and I’m willing to bet I finish it tonight as well. The light from my Kindle will glow in the dark of our bedroom, my husband asleep next to me, peaceful, no longer any danger of the phone ringing with bad news. My sons are grown, adults who work out at the gym and watch Food Network, teach their kids to ice skate and show up to work every day. The days of my intense, possibly misplaced, fear are over. But when I read this book, it will all come back to me, my praying that my sons will grow up unharmed and without harming anyone else. And I’ll feel a strange sisterhood with Sue Klebold because I know all of us, as mothers, live on a razor’s edge.

Some of us understand this better than others.





9 Comments on “Sue Klebold: There But For Fortune

  1. Not being a mother, I have a slightly different comment about this topic which is stigma. Our society makes it so hard for all people but teens and teen boys especially to admit that maybe they would like a little mental health support. It is quick way to be labeled and played even deeper in the outcast club. I could make a few comments about the need to fight to have mental health coverage continued, like it was in the ACA but I will save that for another day.


  2. Reblogged this on Red's Wrap and commented:

    We were driving home from Florida when the news of Columbine came on the radio. It was paralyzing news. And so deeply puzzling and terrifying. Today’s the anniversary of Columbine. My heart goes out to the families who lost their children — all of the families.


  3. Thanks for putting these thoughts into words for all of us mothers (and fathers, too, although fathers don’t seem to get the blame). Both of my grandsons have spent time in jail for alcohol related offensives and it broke my heart. My son questioned what he did wrong (besides marrying a women who was destined to be a bad mother). Friends have a son in prison for pornography and sexual assault. All of us are affected by the crazy, stupid acts of our society’s children. And when one of them hurts, we should all hurt with them.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I have a friend whose son went to prison for assault and drugs. I’ve known this kid since he was a wide-eyed, earnest 8 year old with the kindest heart. I adore his mom and siblings. How did he mess up his life so badly? None of us know. He’s doing better these days, strengthening my belief that under all the nonsense that kind-hearted boy is still in there. This doesn’t mean that I don’t hold him responsible for his actions. I certainly don’t blame his mom. As a parent myself, I’m all too aware that we can guide our children, but we can’t control them.

    There but for fortune indeed. ❤


  5. I watched Sue Klebold on 20/20 and thought of my own sons. Motherhood is so difficult under the best circumstances. My boys, more than my daughter, have firmly pulled away from me. Part of me understands, but part of me feels broken, feels like the relationship is broken, and does not understand these young men who live under my own roof. I try to give them the respect of needing to separate, but I worry and second guess constantly. Two of them have come through it and are emotionally healthy, caring men. I have one to go. I figure within the next 6 months I will see glimmers of the finished product. I hope. At least he has positive friendships and a good sense of right and wrong.

    My heart went out to Sue Klebold. I felt like she blamed herself. She said if she had a second chance, she would have pushed harder to reach her son. I don’t know that she could have.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I’m in the same boat with two sons. One down, one to go… in a good way, I mean. There is no doubt parenting is the world’s hardest job. And kids grow up, choose their own ways, whether we approve or not. the best we can do is provide stable, happy, healthy homes with solid values and beliefs as a foundation on which to build. And keep on lovin’ them.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. I have a good friend whose son was murdered by his long-time friend and college roommate. There had been a party and for some reason the murderer could never quite fathom he’d gone into my friend’s son’s room and held a pillow over his face. It was almost one of those, boys will be boys things. I could imagine my son or any of his friends doing something similar without intending to kill. Chilling.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Very thought provoking. All of us mothers worry and wonder about our children’s futures. All we can do is guide them in the right direction, but the worries never leave us, no matter how old they are.

    Liked by 2 people

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