When I was growing up, there were certain things my mother refused to discuss with me. Family secrets, grim news, death… whenever something like that would come up, she would abruptly change the subject, saying, “You’re too young to worry about that. Maybe when you’re older.” It always pissed me off, especially as a teenager. I thought she was being evasive and patronizing. Surely I was mature enough to know about everything. I see now that she was only doing what mothers do: trying to protect her child.
And she was right. There are certain things you can’t forget once you know them, things you can’t un-see once you’ve seen them. Believe me, there are some things I would love to un-see, that messed me up for life, including a PETA poster when I was 5, several movies, and footage of 9/11.
I first learned of the school shooting in Connecticut midday on Friday when a friend called to ask if Newtown was near where I grew up. It’s about an hour and a half away from my hometown.
Since my kids were home, I couldn’t turn on the TV. I followed the news on Twitter, reading tweet after tweet about gun control laws and talking to kids about tragedy. People were horrified, outraged, devastated, prayerful. When it got to be too much, I put away the phone and we went to the playground.
It was a bright, chilly day. There weren’t many people at the park. I was pushing my 3yo on the swings when a young woman came up to me. She was a reporter for the local TV news station, looking to interview parents about how they were talking to their kids about the shooting. No way, I told her. I can’t. I was getting choked up just thinking about it, no way was I going to let my kids see that. Besides, they were way too young to know about it. I wouldn’t be saying anything to them.
If they hear about the shooting and want to talk about it, I will listen. I will reassure them. I will try to answer their questions. But until then, I will watch and wait and say nothing.
I know there are some parents who will disagree with me. Who think that we should not shelter our children or brush things under the rug. That they should hear bad news from us first. That’s fine. It’s your choice as a parent whether or not to talk to your kids about this. But it’s my choice not to. My 6yo regularly comes downstairs at night sobbing because he “can’t stop thinking about what happens after you die.” It’s awful trying to comfort him, and these are just hypothetical worries. He doesn’t need to know there are people out there who kill children on purpose.
When I was maybe 12 or 13, I witnessed a shooting at the local mall. It sounded like balloons popping. A jewelry store was robbed, a clerk shot in the leg. It happened quickly and had no lasting impact on me. In high school — a nice, suburban Catholic school — a boy brought a gun to school. I think it was more for shock value than intent to do harm, but he was expelled. I’m not sure exactly why I’m sharing these anecdotes, except to make the point that this is nothing new. And that most of these violent acts are completely, maddeningly random. You can’t lock your kids in the house forever and protect them from every evil in the world.
But you can still protect them. I chatted with the reporter at the park for several minutes off-camera. Please tell me you’re not interviewing children, I said. She assured me she wasn’t. She was young and clearly shaken by the news, as we all were. I told her I didn’t envy her job. Watching the coverage over and over in the newsroom. I can’t talk about it anymore, I said. I don’t want to think about it anymore.
“So that’s why you came here?” she asked, gesturing to the sunny playground where the kids ran around shrieking and playing.
Yes. Yes, I suppose that’s exactly why we came here today.
MUST-READ O’ THE DAY: I have read a lot of commentary from a lot of different perspectives, but none that affected me as much as this: “Thinking the Unthinkable: In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness.”