Tragedies and Children
When Terror Hits
One time at my oldest son's school, they spoke about 9/11. My son was born the year after that terrible day. He came home and asked those questions we asked our parents about JFK's assassination. "Where were you when it happened?" I told him, "I was at school, sitting in the classroom. We thought it was a prank, just a rumor, but every television in the school was on and there it was. We spent the day with our eyes glued to the television. I worked as a waitress for a military program, and since the base was on locked down, I worked very late that day making sure those troops that were at my hotel were served food with an assuring smile." He nodded at me, but I saw another question ready to be asked. "Will I ever see something like this in my lifetime?" He looked as if he was going to cry.
I remember that day when it seemed his innocence was stolen from him. I promised him I would never lie, and I felt that this was too important to lie to him anyways. "I wish I could tell you that you won't, but chances are you will several times and you'll tell your kids about them like I'm telling you about this now." He seemed to be comforted by my honesty. "But we need to live our life anyways, because if we give up our fun for fear, they win." He smiled weakly and went on his way to playing video games.
Then it happened, the first real "9/11" moment of my son's life. He'll remember where he was when it happened, how he was playing downstairs with his cousin oblivious that anything had happened until he saw us watching the news. He hid, at first. I found him downstairs saying "I want the remote, this is too sad." I wanted to cover his eyes and pretend that this didn't happen. I wouldn't do him any favors doing that, and I'd rather him know and understand it from me and no one else.
We would love to shield our kids from this, sweep it under the rug and pretend it didn't happen. It's our duty as parents to tell our kids the truth, in terms that won't give them nightmares and that they can understand. Bad things happen to good people and as much as we'd love to prevent it, we can't. We can't look back and say "what could we have done?" because honestly, what could you have really done? You can't check that many backpacks to make sure there aren't bombs, there's no check point that said "please come here and make sure you're not going to bomb us" along a 26.2 mile route. The sad reality is if a bad person wants to do something, they will. And I'd rather my children heard that from me, then be blindsided with that at school. My thoughts and prayers go out to Boston today, especially all my family out there.
The world isn't a safe place. My father always marvels at how when he was a kid, he played in the streets of Dorchester at all hours of the day. He never wore helmets, and their local slide was made of concrete. There was no concern that they would get kidnapped. He would tell stories about how he actually saw a child get hit by a car, and the gory details that go along with it. "That's life", he would repeat.
Days are not the same anymore. Nothing is safe anymore. Our children have been violated at their schools, their churches, and even walking home from school or a friend's house. There are bad people that are willing to do bad things. Will having an open discussion help? Maybe, maybe not. But I'm sure it'll help more than shielding them from the simple fact that they live in a world where schools get shot at, and bombs go off at large scale events just because we believe in different things. Life evolves with the people in it, and people seem to be getting more violent, or we're just more aware of it now with the vast reach the media has.
We need to prepare our children the best we can without terrifying them. There has to be a balance between telling them the truth and telling them they need to live their lives. In my house, I tell my son "if a bad person is going to do something bad, they're going to find a way to do it. A person can beat cancer and live, but leave the hospital only to get hit by a bus and die. You have to live your life. If it's your time, it's your time and God will be there waiting for you." I'm not a religious person, but this is something that comforts him. He accepts that with a pause, but he accepts that. I warn him that he should always be aware of his surroundings, and he needs to trust his instincts if something seems off or unsafe to him. As a parent, the best I can do is hope I taught him enough to be okay out there. I can't be there every second of the day to protect him. I wish I could though, I really wish I could.