When I picked up a kindergarten friend to play with our twins after school today, he delivered a bulletin that could have come straight from CNN.
“There were these bombs that went off, they called it the Boston Marathon, three people died, they’re dead, like 170 people were hurt, they chased the guys, one of the guys had another bomb, there were more explosions…”
As he rattled on, I felt paralyzed. Our 2-year-old seemed oblivious, dancing her hand near the open window, playing with the warm wind. Her older sister sitting next to her read a “Rainbow Fairies” book, but I could see her head cocked toward the back, where her twin brother was leaning into his friend’s words, his signature furrow scarring his brow.
“They’re still chasing one of the bad guys,” the friend continued. “There were all these explosions!”
“Where’d you hear that?” I finally interrupted.
I don’t know why I was surprised. Of course, I knew classmates were bound to talk. Maybe I was more angry than anything, having worked so hard with my husband in the wake of this week’s Boston Marathon tragedy and manhunt and after the shootings at Sandy Hook to shield our children from the news. Twin 6-year-olds and a 2-year-old were too young, in our opinion, to hear coverage of these horrors or to view images of the carnage on the television or the Internet. But I had prepared myself after the Connecticut massacre for how I ... As I grieved for the Newtown victims and their families, I felt grateful for our health—and for the fact that our children seemed to have thus far escaped scorching from premature exposure to human brutality.
But for some reason, this time, I felt unrehearsed and astounded when their friend started talking.I, myself, had been trying since Monday to process the Boston news. I wasn’t anticipating, however, our kids learning all of the gruesome details. I don’t know how I could have been so naïve. Luckily, I was present to hear what transpired. Our three children listened but didn’t ask any questions. And when we reached the playground, they scattered about the climbing apparatus playing tag. They chased each other across the baseball field, while I collected my wits.
I recalled what I’d read after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary about helping children grapple with horrific news. Experts recommended, and common sense dictated, that parents switch off their televisions and delay their own need for updates until their kids were out of earshot, at school or asleep. Psychiatrists emphasized the importance of answering children’s questions as clearly as possible, without offering gruesome details. And most of all, experts counseled reassuring young children that they and their caretakers were safe and returning as soon as possible to the daily routine.
Having remembered this advice, tonight at dinner I waited for the questions to flow. Nothing came. We ate our pizza and cantaloupe. The twins helped each other recall the lyrics to their school song and then fought over a ruler. Jane climbed in and out of her chair, refusing to eat her food. But as soon as my husband came home, I pulled him aside.
“What should we do?” I asked. “They heard all these details, so we have to say something.”
“Let’s tell them that some bad people hurt some people in another city, but that we are safe here, that nothing is going to happen to them,” Jeff said.
Of course, this speech felt somewhat dishonest in its oversimplification, in its bald assurance, but it’s the one I delivered, first to Griffin in the bath.
“Do you have any questions?” I asked him after my spiel.
“No,” he said.
“Well, if you hear things at school and have questions about anything, you can always ask me and daddy.”
“We learned a new app today,” he responded, clearly wanting to change the subject.
When Georgia came in for her tub, I tried my talk once again. “I already heard all this,” she said with a sigh. “Daddy already told me all this in my room.”
So we read books and kissed them goodnight and felt thankful for our health and the reminder that children often handle challenges better than adults. And then my husband and I tuned into the news again, to learn of more gunfire and armored vehicles converging on a street in Watertown.