Like many of you, my husband and I reluctantly talked to our kids about Sandy Hook. It is tricky territory for a parent to talk about a real life monster, knowing our job is to keep our children safe and feeling safe. We followed a "less is more" guideline and basically revealed only that "Someone went into a school and shot some people." We did not emphasise that it was mostly little children or even that they died. It was a short conversation that ended in a visible look of relief on the oldest in particular when we mentioned the shooter was dead.
Later in the week, just days away from Christmas, the kids and I headed out to the grocery store when the usual wave of gun fingers and shoot'em up stuff began in the back seat, just like it often does. So, as I often do, I reminded them before heading into the public domain that guns (fingers actually) must be holstered when we get to the store. I cautioned them that "Especially because of what happened last week people are very sensitive and it is even more inappropriate for you to use those gestures and words at this point.
That is when my 8 year old replied, "I thought people would be over it by now." I had to bite my tongue because he wasn't being flip. His words were said out of innocence and childish resilience in regaurds to monsters. "He is dead." resolves the problem in his eyes. He didn't have all the facts, fiction, and faces popping up all week on phone, television, or computer. We shielded our children from the most horrible truths, and I don't regret it, yet it made me pause, "Did we keep it too simple? too matter of fact?" That question paced circles in the back of my mind that afternoon. Should we expect our children to appreciate the gravity of the event?
That evening when bedtime rolled around I read about a world of Dragons, magic and monsters. I scratched and rubbed backs, pulled up covers, tucked in toes and kissed noses. I headed downstairs to read and made it only a page or so before I heard my 8 year old , "Mom, could you come up here?" When I returned to the room my boys share, he had watery eyes and a worried expression, not uncommon for this boy who tends to be the more anxious of my bunch, especially when tired. "I'm worried" he said as if I never would have picked up on it. What I didn't know for sure was about what. I have learned never to assume that I know what may be worrying at a child's mind of "what if. . . what if. . . what ifs." Especially this boy for whom the presence of a smoke detector is purely a reminder there could be a fire--when he is tired.
On this night two days before Christmas, a new fear surfaces. "What if someone comes into our house and comes to our room while we are sleeping?" He didn't say, "and shoots us" but the words hung in the shadows of our conversation. "I could punch'em if they were small, but regular grownups are too big for me to beat up. . ." "What if someone tries to take Lila her door is before ours?", "what if, what if, what if. . ."
I reassured him, and older brother who I knew was listening though he appeared to be engrossed in a book, that Mom and Dad would keep all three kids safe, (from Monsters was implied). I told him how we hear everything (magic is always involved where there is love),and how Lila still wakes and calls me with a tiny voice and I hear and I go in to find her curled on top of her pillow blankets off and shivering. I tell him how when I cover, retuck and cuddle her I know she is asleep and I can go back to bed when she twists sideways and kicks her little girl feet in my ribs. The story makes the boys laugh, which I know has to happen if they are going to get to sleep this night just days before Christmas, when I wish Sugarplum Fairies were their only concern.
Our conversation twined around in many directions and offshoots when at a point of self reflection (and perhaps the root of tonight's bedtime fears) my 8 year old tells me "When I hear about bad things that happen I picture myself in that situation and I can't stop worrying." That is when that question stops pacing in the back of my mind. I know that I gave him enough information for his active imagination to chew on. I am bolstered in our decision to give the kids just the bare bones, because despite all our sheltering our children understand fears deeply and monsters all too readily.
Thankfully, they also believe in the magic of dragons, fairies, witches, heroes. . .and the Magic of Christmas. For our family Christmas fell at a perfect time this year, along with a sparkling dust of snow and wonder to distract us from fears and remind us of the power of love, family, and faith.