The preschool teacher posted a message on the class Facebook page last Friday afternoon, advising parents not to discuss the tragedy in Connecticut with our very young children.
I respect this woman as a teacher and as a mother; I’ve known her for years, and her reputation is beyond reproach. She is undeniably wise and very good at what she does.
I like to think I’m a good Mom too, but I have really struggled with this one. I believe in being honest with my children. My little boy has teenaged siblings and he rides the school bus with kids ranging from preschool to twelfth grade. He’s going to hear things. I have wondered if he might be more frightened by our silence on the issue.
I didn’t mention it to him, but I’ve watched him. And I’ve waited for a sign to show me what to do.
As I tucked him into bed last night, he looked up and made an announcement.
“We do lockdown drills at school.”
Big nod. “We go in the play kitchen and go down on the floor and be really quiet so nobody knows we’re there. When we do a fire drill, we walk but we never run and when we do a tornado drill we never go outside.”
“Sounds like you do lots of drills at your school.”
“Yeah. But I don’t like lockdown drills. I don’t want a bad man with a gun to go to my school.”
Dear God, what can a mother say to that? I wanted to pull him close and hold him and cry. I don’t want my four year-old to have to be afraid of bad men with guns. Hell, I don’t want my fourteen or fifteen year-old kids to be afraid. I don’t want to be afraid for them.
He climbed up into my lap and we talked for a long time. I told him that I did fire drills and tornado drills when I was a little girl, but my school never had a fire or a tornado. I told him that drills are for practice just in case something bad happens, but that the “something bad” will probably never happen. And yes, I told him that it was true, those kids he had heard about really are in Heaven because of a bad man with a gun. I showed him on a map just how far away Connecticut is from Michigan, and I made sure that he understood that this particular bad man can never hurt anyone again.
Time will tell if I was right or wrong to talk to my youngest boy about it, but I feel that it was the right thing to do. He’s a smart little boy, and he had heard enough that he needed someone to reassure him. He deserved the truth – a brief, heavily edited version of the truth in age-appropriate terms, but I am convinced that an outright lie would have done more damage in the long run.
I wasn’t going to write about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School because I didn’t lose anyone there. It’s not my place to milk it for lots of “likes” and “follows” on my blog. No matter how sick or saddened I feel, my feelings are nothing compared to what the families and friends of the victims are going through right now. I can’t presume to speak for any of them or to say that I understand what they are going through. I can’t.
But we need to talk about it. As a country, as parents, as human beings. We all need comfort.
We don’t need the news to keep running the same pictures on an endless loop, and we don’t need to hear politicians arguing about gun control or prayer in schools or whatever soapbox they are on at the moment.
We need to talk about love and loss and grief, and yes, we need to talk about fear.
Our children need to know that it’s okay to be scared or sad or angry about this, and they need to know that the adults in their lives will answer their questions to the best of our ability.
I’m no therapist or expert on human nature. I’m just a writer. But I like to think that sometimes common sense trumps education. And my common sense says to talk when you need to talk. Ask what you need to ask.
Cry when you need to cry.
And always, always, remember to say “I love you.”