Processing Tragedy & Bad Guys

“Hey Mama, did you know that aliens don’t have brains. Just like bad guys don’t have brains. Hey, did you know that a bad guy went into a school and killed a lot of kids and teachers with a big gun …?”

These heart-stopping words came out of my five year-old’s mouth at the dinner table yesterday. It was one of those moment when all the air is sucked out of the room with a deafening whoosh. This wasn’t the first time she had talked about that ghastly, tragic day—just two months ago now. The first time was when she came home from school the following Monday and independently offered up her simplistic recounting of the facts of that day, parroting what had been told to her and her classmates during the special Open Circle they had held.

In truth, I am still furious that her school openly discussed it with the kindergarteners. I had emailed her teacher to say that I did not want her to participate—but the email reached her too late and the deed was done. Or rather the damage was done.

Or was it?

The school had all kinds of justification for talking about it with the children and they handled it very well. The acknowledged only the facts and the sadness. They did not try to rationalize or explain. They reassured the kids of their safety, the procedures in place.

Rationalizing and explaining was left to us parents (as if we have the answers.) My five year-old, in fact, had no questions. But my eight-year old, whom we proactively told ahead of school that Monday and the Open Circle so that he wasn’t blindsided by facts or gossip, had questions galore. How? Why? What about me?

With every fibre in my body and soul, I loathe the fact that my kids are aware of such inexplicable acts perpetrated by one sick, evil person. I shudder and feel like gagging every time I replay that conversation my husband and I had with our eight year-old. I did not want to do it but felt like the school forced my hand, as well as all the parents who opinionized on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere. I’m not yet done with processing that.

But what shatters my heart the most is those words, uttered from the innocent and beautiful mouth of my youngest. They shocked and scarred me the first time she spoke them. But hearing them pop out of her, out of context, two months later concerns me even more, making me gasp for air. Maybe it was just word association? Maybe, by recapping the facts (masked as a question “Hey Mama, did you know …”) she’s seeking corroboration that the story is not fiction? Maybe she’s just showing off something that she learned at school?

Or maybe it’s been lurking in her mind ever since. Maybe this is how she is processing it, even two months later. Maybe her world will never be the same, now that she knows.

Why should a five year-old have to know these things? Why?

I don’t have any answers.

Leave a comment


  1. Annie Moore

     /  February 24, 2013

    You are right to have been furious with the school for discussing it without parental consent at that age! And you are absolutely correct in asking the question why five year olds have to know these things. They don’t. It is too much for their brains to process. Even as adults, we can barely get our arms around understanding such tragic events as Newtown and all the others that have occurred since Columbine. Children her age do not need to know nor are they emotionally prepared to process such events! Brava for posting this!

  2. Chantal

     /  February 24, 2013

    They shouldn’t. I too would be angry with the school’s decision. At the very least, they should have warned you of their intentions….

  3. Anita

     /  February 24, 2013

    Back around Christmas, Matt said Ashley had a nightmare that a bad guy was shooting at her school but it was OK because big brother AJ was there with her. I was floored as I didn’t expect to hear that from a 4 year old – they didn’t talk about it at preschool and we had been careful to shield her from it yet somehow she knew about it. But as I have now been through lockdowns vs. fire drills with my 8 year old, it brought a new realization to me – one that I am not really at peace with but nonetheless it is there. I realized that my parents must have had the same feelings when I hid under the desk in 1st grade because Russia might send a nuclear bomb our way during the Cold War (and they knew full well a desk wouldn’t have saved any of us) or a bomb could very well be on our airplane as we boarded it in the mid-80’s to visit India. My nieces – now getting ready to go to college but were only my own children’s age during 9/11 – know that planes flying into buildings is a very real possibility – definitely not something that ever crossed my realm of reality as a child. They don’t dismiss it but they don’t live in fear of it…but it angers me that they had to grow up knowing about it at all…ever, even when they were old enough “to handle it.”. It can’t be that dis-similar to how my parents must have felt when I learned in elementary school about the World Wars and concentration camps and how we hear from own children on Martin Luther King’s holiday about how our own mixed marriage would have been unacceptable just a few decades ago and still is in parts of the world.

    And then I sit down and I watch Tom & Jerry. Where it’s funny to strap a cat to a rocket and blow him up – but he’s actually OK so it must be OK. Or the fact that I LOVE Star Wars but how sad it is to watch when the Princess watches her entire world blows up or the charred remains of Luke’s uncle and aunt– but most say to me – calm down – it’s not real. Yet – it is ok for a four, five or even six year old to process that?? “Yes, because it is pretend, it’s a fun movie, it’s a part of childhood.” But at that age – do they really process that difference? Should we be expecting them too? If we do, why do we think they can’t handle knowing what happed in real life not that far away? I struggle with this… I try so hard to shield them from the news by watching a Disney movie where most of the parents were killed off in some tragic accident…the irony is not lost on me.

    • Maybe all these movies are designed (perversely?) to condition kids to the real nature of society; to provide a point of reference when there are real bad guys. Because, at least in the movies, good usually prevails over evil.

  4. Anita

     /  February 25, 2013

    maybe – but the nightmares still happen even if good prevails in the end. At least in our house. Because the question is…why would someone want to do that in the first place? That “answer” seems to be the same in pretend or reality. What’s even more scary – some of the movies are actually happening before the real event itself (like 9/11) but there was no Harrison Ford to save the day!


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