What I Said To My Children About Tragedy
It is 2:30 on a Saturday afternoon and I am listening Mansions of The Lord and trying to come up with the right words to write.
The weight of what happened at Sandy Hook elementary is something that tugs at me and I am doing my best to figure out how to respond to it.
Some of my friends have said they aren’t going to talk about it with their children and have said they will turn off the television and the radio so that they aren’t exposed to the news.
I understand why they are doing it but that won’t work for me.
Bubble Wrapped Children
It doesn’t work because we can’t wrap our children in bubble wrap and shield them from the world. It won’t work because there is no uniform rule or method of parenting and experience has proven that some parents will share things with kids that I won’t.
Don’t misunderstand, that is not an indictment of parents. I don’t agree with how everyone parents but I am realistic so I knew that when I showed up at my third grader’s school for the afternoon pickup it was possible she might have heard something about the events of the day.
It was why I spent some time considering how to answer any questions she might have and figured out how I would approach things so that she would feel comfortable.
I wanted her to know we trust the school and believe it to be a safe place. Fortunately I didn’t have to have that conversation with her so it didn’t matter.
But I took a very different approach with my son.
Age Appropriate Meets Proactive Response
He is in middle school now and it is a different world from elementary. That is not supposed to be profound or insightful, just realistic.
Kids have internet access through their smartphones, iPads, Kindles and computers. I am not naive enough to believe they don’t use them during school or that they only visit “age appropriate” web sites.
Since we weren’t going to find our own Fortress of Solitude I was confident that there wasn’t going to be any way to keep him from hearing about what happened and decided that a proactive response was the best way to go.
It was a guarantee that I could introduce him to the topic in a manner that I thought was appropriate. That is the sterile way of saying I hoped to explain it in a way that didn’t scare him or give him nightmares.
But it was also recognition that he knows that bad things happen. We have had discussions about 9-11 and the assassination of Dr. King. He knows about the Holocaust and has had more than a couple of discussions about war.
Some of them were with me and some were in school. This wasn’t the first time he has been exposed and sadly it won’t be the last.
What I Said
I told him that there had been a shooting at a school in Connecticut. He asked me if people died and I said that some had. I told him that most people have been saved, but we didn’t get in to many details.
He doesn’t need to know all that.
I reminded him that during any sort of emergency the most important thing he can do is stay calm and make smart decisions. He nodded his head and for a long moment there was nothing but silence.
“Dad, I know you are serious.”
“I know you know. I am just proud of you and I want you to know that I am confident in your abilities.”
What I Didn’t Say
What I didn’t say was that life has shown that crazy things happen and that sometimes no matter what you do bad things happen. I didn’t tell how heartbreaking it was to see pictures and video of kids walking with police and faces of parents in agony.
What I didn’t talk about was how I heard parents at school talk about how they would kill those that hurt their children or about the others who said their lives would end if they lost their kids.
But in the recesses of my mind I heard all those things and watched a million memories parade on by.
I asked him if he was worried and he said no. When he asked me if I was worried I shook my head and said I trust the school.
What I Worry About Most
What I worry about most is not the crazy guy shooting up the school but the stupid crap we did. I worry about drunk drivers, falling out of trees, bike accidents and silly decisions to jump from the roof into a swimming pool.
That is not bravado speaking either, it is how I really feel.
But when things like this happen there is that little whisper that says sometimes things happen. It reminds me that no one is immune.
My heart breaks for the people who lost someone yesterday and I pray that they find a way through this all.
And in the silence of the night I hold my breath and hope that statistics are right and that my kids grow up to live healthy, full, rewarding and enriching lives.