Why I Didn't Tell My Daughter About Newtown
I spent Friday, as many of you did, alternating between crying and hitting refresh on my web browser. Had I a different job, I might not have known about the Newtown shooting as early as I did. Had I been a different person, I might have monitored it less frequently, only seeing what absolutely had to be seen in order to update BlogHer News editor Grace Hwang Lynch's heartfelt first response on BlogHer while she was on the road.
And had I been a different person, I might have told my eight-year-old daughter what happened.
I read a ton of posts on talking to your kids about tragedy. One that stuck with me the most was from Fresh Widow, whom I met many BlogHers ago when I sat behind her on the floor at a crowded session. Among her tips:
Respect your own feelings and understand that your experience of this may be completely different from your kids' experience. It's okay for you to take care of yourself, too. Get comfortable with the fact that you can't control the world and that our own feelings can sometimes feel like "too much." Your comfort level will enable your children to "hear" that you are open to questions -- even though we know you don't want to handle this terrible topic AGAIN. Dealing with "shit that happens" (in all forms) is part of parenting and part of our world and you can handle it.
I read posts about not transferring your own anxiety to your kids, posts about not giving too much detail, posts about age appropriateness, posts about other posts and how those writers were doing it wrong. And then ultimately, I decided I would not bring it up unless she did. I would wait to see what she said when she got off the bus. And that was, "Where are the cats?"
I have always been the sort of person to agonize over the what-ifs. Fire Safety Week would have me up late at night for the next month planning my escape route. I am terrified of the side effects of even the most benign medicines to the point that my pharmacist probably sighs with relief when I walk away. Earlier this month, while talking to my pregnant hairstylist about her grandfather's death, I found myself suddenly and irrationally afraid of dying while getting my hair colored. My family often reminds me that my daughter is not me and seems to be less delicate a flower, mental health-wise, but the same part of me that's able to access my childhood to write novels for young adults is the part that's able to access the fear and uncertainty of childhood and the flip-side belief real and true that my parents were able to protect me from everything, that God was able to protect me from everything. It was a hard day as a fully formed adult when I adopted my current belief: There are no safe places, and no unsafe places, there are just places. Focus on coping, not finding safe harbors. Pray hard and row for shore.
While I waited for my girl to get off the bus, I watched President Obama's press conference video over and over, thinking about what I would say to her if she got off the bus knowing. I hoped I would not have to explain it, selfishly. I hoped I would not have to explain it, altruistically. I wished it were not a thing needing explanation, sanely.
I went to a few holiday parties over the weekend. At one party, a parent friend of mine said she had talked to her eight-year-old daughter about the shootings and her daughter said they practiced lockdowns at school already. We both stood there, examining a plate of cookies. "Maybe that's like our parents and grandparents practicing hiding under their desks against nuclear warfare," I said. We stared at each other. It's true there's always been something to be afraid of if you go looking for it.