Photo by Derek Jensen (Tysto), 2004-September-11For years I've sheltered my girls from seeing the news, typically because there is just one bad story after another. I didn't want them to know that the world wasn't all unicorns and princesses, and that life generally isn't a fairy tale. However, they are becoming old enough to know better, that the world isn't always so nice.
My need to shelter them from the news started when I had the TV on during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Kiki was four and had been playing in the next room. I didn't think much of what was on TV because after all, they were just talking about weather, and she never seemed to pay attention when the news was on anyway. Kiki had been singing and playing and then all of the sudden she was quiet. When a normally not so quiet child becomes quiet, that usually means trouble, so I looked over to see what she was doing. She had walked into the family room and was standing just staring at the TV. Before I could turn the TV off or do anything, she asked "why are people standing on their houses, Mommy?" I found the remote and quickly turned it off, and told her not to worry about it, that it was just a TV show. She wasn't buying it. "Mommy, what's a hurricane? Can a hurricane come to our house? Are we going to lose our house too?" Obviously she picked up on more than I had realized. All of that time she was playing and singing she was also listening.
I decided then that I would never have the news on in the house when the girls were awake. To me it just wasn't worth the risk. However, I knew that I couldn't do this forever, that eventually they would go to school and would hear other kids talking about events on the news. So I've slowly and selectively allowed them to see some news stories I thought they could handle, with me sitting with them and explaining it to them. There is only one topic I've completely avoided: September 11, 2001.
I have really grappled with how to explain this day to them. First of all, on September 11, you can't really turn the news on without media showing the images over and over (and over and over and over), and that is definitely something I am not sure I want them to see just yet. But I know they are going to hear about it eventually, and it could very well be on the school bus. I know the school celebrates Patriot Day and the children are encouraged to wear red, white and blue that day. Last year I know they were not told the purpose behind Patriot Day; Boo was just a Kindergartener, and Kiki was in second grade. I asked the teachers and found the kids were not told anything about 9-11 specifically, but that the focus was more on celebrating our country's heroes - police officers, fire fighters, rescue workers, and of course, our soldiers. The girls decorated flags, sang patriotic songs, etc., but not much else.
I know the time is coming though, especially for Kiki, who is now in third grade. If I don't tell her about it, she is going to learn about it on the school bus, the playground or in the cafeteria. Or it may be that she learns about it from her teacher, which would be better than hearing about it from another child. I know her teacher would tell about the events less dramatically, and much more factually, than a nine year old child. I worry some, because Kiki tends to internalize these types of things. She often shows empathy and even cries when she hears about people who suffer. She thinks about stuff like this for days, and wants to know as much detail about it as we will tell her. I also know that she would worry this type of thing could happen again.
How do you tell your children about something like this? Eventually all children know that there are "bad guys." This is evident whenever you visit any playground and spend some time watching children playing games like cops and robbers. Our girls know first hand about some of those "bad guys" since some of those very types of hooligans broke into their cousins' house and stole their electronic toys and Halloween candy. I've warned them about the dangers of strangers and how important it is to stick close to Mommy and Daddy when out in public. They even know the sadness of stuff like kids who are sick and even sometimes die from cancer.
But how do you explain the events of September 11, 2001? How do you tell them there are people so mean in our world that they wanted to kill thousands of people in one day? That they wanted to blow up buildings and airplanes, and take away lots of mommies and daddies, all because they hate us so much? I can't even begin to think of how to tell them.
I do know I want to tell them the gentlest way I can, and focus more on the heroism of that day, than the horror. Teach them that we should always honor and respect our soldiers, police officers, firefighters, rescue workers, and everyone else who puts themselves before others. After all, isn't that what we should all remember about this day? That in the face of adversity, our country stood UNITED and refused to let the meanies win.