Get in the lifeboat, kids!

by Shawna Kitzman

I heard the movie Titanic was playing in theaters this year to commemorate 20 years since its release.

I was a senior in high school when it landed, then parked comfortably for a year, appealing to all types of 1998 audiences. But I immediately associate the movie with graduating, so my first reaction was, Damn, I’ve been out of high school 20 years.  

I saw it in the theaters a few times, and I definitely had tears rolling down my face. C’mon: Leonardo DiCaprio at that ripe young age, and me at the ripe young age, and that story. Beyond the fictional courtship of Rose and Jack, the story of Titanic is fascinating.

But it’s been close to 20 years since I’ve given it much thought. This Christmas, while home with my mother in law Cookie, I decided to watch it on Netflix. It was Cookie’s maiden voyage. I didn’t realize Titanic virgins still existed.

We watched it intently. My kids popped in and lingered for a bit. They begged to see the ship hitting the iceberg, but I shuffled them off to bed with promise of iceberg in the morning.

I shuffled them off to bed with promise of iceberg in the morning.

Cookie and I sat fixed to the tv. She held my hand towards the end, as the drama increases. When an Irish mom tucks her kids into bed as the water rises, I was glad I’d already tucked mine in. They were safe and warm upstairs. I’d forgotten these sad details. The Titanic’s story – one of hubris and hope, then doom – is nothing short of amazing, but it’s sobering to imagine the specifics of that night.


After the movie ended and Cookie went to bed, I stayed up by the light of my phone, researching the Unsinkable Molly Brown (a philanthropist who helped others board life boats, to the chagrin of well-heeled survivors), the oldest living passenger (none anymore), and famous people who met their fate on the ship (the first owners of Macy’s, among others). It was then that I remembered my childhood fascination with the story. 

The next day, I showed my girls the iceberg scene, but not much more. I didn’t want to explain the tragic parts. The collision impressed them. Later, I showed them a YouTube recreation of how the ship sank, which researchers and artists knit together. When we visited the library, they each got two books about the Titanic.

When we came home from the library, the cleaning lady was here. We stayed out of her way on the third floor, now unoccupied by visitors.

The tall guest bed was a ship that hits an iceberg in the night. The laundry baskets were their lifeboats. Their dad, the playful captain who throws them over his shoulder. Then, when we got hungry, we turned out the light and went downstairs for something to eat.