December 17, 2012

our new reality

on september 11, 2001, my oldest son was in kindergarten. i watched the second tower fall while he was eating breakfast. i didn't want to send him to school that day but i couldn't protect him from the reality that he would go to school the next day and the day after that and he would be given information that perhaps he wasn't ready to hear or equipped to understand. i didn't protect him fully from the images being replayed over and over on television or the commentary streaming endlessly on the radio. i didn't protect myself and had my first full-blown, scary panic attack later that night.

i didn't want my son hiding under his desk, in a darkened classroom, learning to be afraid but lockdowns were the new fire drills.

my little artist who used to draw pictures of the powerpuff girls was now drawing pictures of planes crashing into buildings.

this was our new reality.

when i read about the newtown tragedy my husband had already left for work and i didn't mention it to my children. it was late in the morning.

i thought about it a lot, had dry dialogue about it on facebook; almost numb in disbelief. i didn't cry.

i wanted to be forgiving and i wanted to understand but violence like this doesn't make sense.

on saturday night my six year old, having heard enough bits and pieces, finally inquired.

"what happened yesterday?"

"i hadn't wanted to mention anything," i whispered to my husband.

"um, uh, there was a tragedy at a school," my husband offered, unprepared.

"what kind of tragedy?" was the obvious next question.

i look at my son's face. i watch because i have nothing to say. i don't want to be having this conversation but the conversation is happening. i am aware that no one wants to have this conversation just as much as i'm aware that there are too many grieving parents that would give anything to be having a conversation with their six year old right now.

even though my husband used some vague and faraway terms, the moment he said, "someone killed some people in a school yesterday," there is a visible change to my son's inquisitive face. a new neural connection is made and some part of his innocence has been replaced by the knowledge that sometimes very bad things happen.

"with a gun or a knife?" he wanted to know.

i wanted to pause, to stop and press rewind, to not have to say, "guns."

"did they kill a teacher or a student?" he followed.

"both," my husband answered this time.

we left it at that, to some extent. he asked a few more questions throughout the evening but i wasn't prepared to share the details of just how many students and teachers and i wasn't at all prepared for his next question.

"why?" he asked so full of the innocence that i was sure, just moments prior, was gone forever.

he climbs into my lap and i weep and i tell him i don't know.
this is our new reality.

i understand that not wanting to have this conversation with my child is selfish and it was completely naive of me to think that because we homeschool it could be avoided, altogether. whether or not we're sending our children to school this morning, and whether or not they're aware, as parents we're all a bit heavy-hearted.

i know everyone wants to discuss mental healthcare and gun control. some folks want increased security across the board and i've even heard people suggest that teachers should be armed and trained to kill in order to protect our children. there seems to be a handful opinions out there that only further divide an already divided nation and the truth is: it starts with us. peace begins at home.

we're all a little fragile right now and we need to be tender with one another. we cannot control the flow of information our children will be subjected at school, but this is true always. as parents, it is our job to honor and protect childhood even if we can't always protect our children. move through your day and the days to come, gentle and steady as you go. breathe in and breathe out love. our children may ask some hard questions, new fears may arise. answer what you can and make space for age-appropriate discussion and safe expression as they process our new reality.


  1. unfortunately it isn't so new a reality. this reality is older than both the boys you've got at home.

    1. murder is as old as nature but new in the way that it will be a more common conversation, salient in the minds of very small school-aged children in a way that it wasn't even after columbine. many parents had a hard time dropping their children off this morning, and many will have new questions to answer when their children get home.

  2. Valeri,
    Thank you for this post.

    I totally understand your not wanting to talk to your kids about it. Especially your six year old. Especially after 9/11. Well. Actually 'especially' is wrong. It's just shit to have to have that conversation at all. It shouldn't have to happen.

    I've felt very lucky to shield my six year old from this. But I know the only reason is because we live in another country, on another continent, and we don't have satellite TV, so we're not watching the news. She wasn't going to hear about it at school because by the time it happened in the US, it was Saturday morning here and Friday was her last day of school for the holidays.

    I think we just have to do the best we can. It *is* a new reality and there are no rule books out there saying how to talk to your kids about this stuff.

    The only thing I can think of is to go back in history + maybe read about how people handled WW2 in when bombs where being dropped + London was falling. That's where the "Keep Calm + Carry On" campaign came from. But then Brits aren't very good at expressing emotions too (I feel I can say something like that because I'm married to one.)

    I agree whole heartedly: peace begins at home.

    Thank you for your post. Everyone should read it.


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