I was listening to President Obama's address while I waited for my son's school bus to arrive Friday afternoon. That morning I'd followed the story, posting on it for The Stir. What I thought was going to be the story of a domestic dispute resulting in two injured adults hemorrhaged into something so much worse. I felt sick every time I had to add another update. I kept thinking about those terrorized children, even the ones who survived but who would never forget that day.
As my son stepped off the bus, I grabbed him and hugged him so tightly he yelled, "Ugh! Mom, I can't breathe!" I felt elated and a little bit guilty at the privilege of having yet another day with my beautiful son. But I had a decision to make: Should I tell him what had happened in Newtown, Connecticut that morning?
My 8-going-on-9 son has already had a rough year. My husband and I separated this summer, and while we're peacefully working out an amicable split and co-parenting together, my son has had nightmares and waves of sadness that seem almost too much for him sometimes. I can't bring myself to add any more stress to his life.
As we walked back from the bus stop, I put on a brave face. I'd had all morning to cry. One of the big rules of parenting is that you don't get to expose your kids to your huge, scary adult emotions. Another rule is that you do everything you can to protect your child's innocence. Scary images and narratives can haunt children, which is why experts are all advising us to limit our kids' exposure to the media while this story is in the news.
When we got home, I did not turn on the news. I knew we had at least a weekend of golden blissful ignorance before he found out. He needed this weekend -- so did I. We stayed home. He seemed not to notice I never clicked on the usual NPR. Later I checked with the other parents in his class via email to find out what they were doing and how much their kids knew.
Almost all of the parents were not telling their kids about the shooting. One of the parents, a therapist, said she saw absolutely no value in telling her daughter what had happened. A Facebook friend of mine admitted she'd told her daughter and immediately regretted it. A couple of the kids had found out by accident, catching newspaper headlines on the street or news broadcasts at a pizza place. It was in this context that my friend's 6-year-old son learned what the word "several" means -- "several" children were shot to death. Those parents promised they'd ask their kids not to discuss the incident with other kids at school. Already I feel my "invincible" parental powers of protection slipping. And that's the story of parenting.
Now I feel like it's just a matter of time before my son finds out. We're fortunate to send him to a very small school (just one classroom per grade, and 18 or fewer kids per class). And our community is pretty sheltered. The teachers met with a psychologist this morning before classes and the administration says they won't bring it up. Still, they also sent parents guidelines for talking with our kids, in the event that they do find out. (I wrote a post on talking with your kids Friday as well.)
But at least if he finds out now, maybe some of the emotional heat will have subsided a bit. I'm prepared with that delicately-put question the therapist parent used on her daughter: "Did you hear any interesting news today from the kids?" I'll ask him, and if he tells me that he's heard of a horrific incident leading to the death of several children, I'll be prepared to talk with him about it. But I'll do just about anything to keep him in the dark for a little bit longer.
Have you been trying to shelter your kids from the news or do you feel like they should know?
Image via Adriana Velez
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