When Being a Parent Means Bearing Brutally Bad News
My generation is no stranger to witnessing horrible moments in human history. We remember where we were when the Challenger exploded. Many of us were watching it on live TV. I was in 9th grade AA Civics, listening to a kid give a speech on air safety when the principal broke over the intercom with the news.
When the Columbine massacre occurred, I was a young mom of two very small kids. I watched it unfold on television, stunned how children could commit atrocities aimed at other children. On 9/11, I was home with three small ones and pregnant with our fourth baby. As they spent the day parked in front of Nick Jr. and the Disney Channel, I was in an adjoining room watching the towers fall. When they came to me for snacks and diaper changes, I’d turn the small TV toward the wall. They were too young to see, too young to understand. Heck. I still don’t understand.
I wondered what kind of a world my unborn baby would be born into.
But kids don’t stay small forever. They begin to partake in the good and bad of our society on a bigger scale. When tragedies happen, my impulse is to turn the channel, to protect them from learning that evil has once again encroached in a place where good usually reigns. I fight telling them. I delay it as long as possible. But evil permeates, soaking through the edges, bleeding into view until we must sit. We must talk. We watch the news in small batches.
There is no escape because it’s a lesson that will not be brushed off or denied. It wants to be taught: Evil is real. There are bad people who do horrible things to other people, at times and in places the victims least expect. Mass casualties are expected at a war front. They are not expected at a school, theater, restaurant, office building. Revealing this awful truth to kids is never done on our timetable as parents. We don’t sit with our kids to discuss these events when there is peace in our town. It takes a tragedy to inspire these conversations.
The recent and devastating forest fires in Colorado forced us to discuss wildfires with our five-year-old daughter. She was convinced our house would catch on fire, too. At her young age, she is able to see if it can happen to others, it can happen to her and to her family. She knows there is no immunity from pain and heartbreak. I hate that she knows this already, but I also realize it means something good.
It means she sees herself as a part of a bigger world, bigger than her bedroom with her dollhouse and the drawings she pins to her walls. It’s the stirring of sympathy and empathy we all need to develop or we turn into someone, something ugly. Monstrous. Letting my older kids feel the sting and shock of what happened in Aurora a few days ago will affect them to their cores. They learn to mourn when others mourn.
Time will carry us away from this July and this bizarrely hard year in Colorado’s history. The good times will be sweeter. Victories will be more meaningful. Triumph, laughter, joy will be rooted more deeply. Justice, you will be done.
When that time comes, I hope I will sit with my kids. Talk with them. Just as bad times inspire meaty, challenging conversations, I hope the good times will, too. As low as we can sink, we must remember there will come a time when we will fly just as high.
For now, our family joins with thousands of others in holding the hands of those who mourn.