This morning during the chaos of pouring cereal and children bickering over a Lego figurine at the breakfast table, I tried to get my husband’s attention. He hadn’t heard the news yet so I knew I couldn’t let him start his day without telling him what had happened. As I whispered into his ear my words came out awkwardly, like a pilot giving instructions without using complete sentences: “mass shooting…over 50 people were killed…outdoor concert…” When he finally grasped what I was saying we looked at each other and no words came out.
The kids continued to get ready for school and I distractedly packed lunches, put away breakfast, and got myself prepared for the day. I remember wondering if I should say something to them? It felt too horrific to talk about just now, but I worried that my oldest might hear from someone else at school. Then what? What kinds of fears might grow inside of her before we had a chance to talk? What misinformation would she get?
I knew it would be too much for my youngest, especially because she had recently started asking big questions. Like what happens when you grow old and whether or not you come back as a baby once you die. Her innocence makes my heart ache and I wasn’t sure she could grasp any of this.
So, I said nothing.
I went through the motions and got them in the car. We listed to KidzBop and I gave them huge hugs as they left the car. As I watched their little bodies walk into school I thought to myself,
This is parenting: trying to protect my children from the real world, while knowing this is the world I have to prepare them to face.
If your children are privileged, like mine, this process of facing reality has been gradual. There was no extreme suffering at a young age for my kids, no witnessing of disasters or violence. No perpetual discrimination, trauma, or major hardship. Even with the expected pains, losses, and health concerns that we’ve endured as a family, I’ve managed to keep hidden from them some of the scariest parts of living.
But I’m aware that just as it’s my responsibility to protect them to some degree, it’s also my responsibility to gradually, inch by inch, lift off the fabric to reveal some of the awful parts of life. To show them that scary things happen, and to hope that they will feel. Feelings like empathy, sadness, shock and anger…and motivation to help others and alleviate pain in the world. And hopefully they will realize the tough lesson that I am still working on—to treasure each day.
I’m not sure what I’ll say to my kids about what happened in our country today. I may just wait to see if they ask questions. If they do, I will probably stifle my tears and fumble around with my words until I say something that sounds reasonable. Something that gives my children peace that they are safe right now, so that they can get to sleep without fear. And then I will give them huge hugs… because that’s all I have for now.