The Conversation I Didn’t Want to Have

(Note: This post originally ran on Sunday on the Huffington Post. The good news is that, despite the tough and sad topic, my son and I ended up having a wonderful conversation about kindness and respect.)

As I sit here, my 8-year-old son is consuming his fifth waffle and watching some inane Sunday morning cartoon. His life is carefree, focused, as kids often are, on entertainment, fulfilling his needs, and fun, fun, fun.

But, at some point today, I have to sit him down and have a conversation I don’t want to have to have. One that will bring back memories of another conversation we had to have just over four months ago. One that upset him then and which will upset him now. One to which, when he asks why, we will not have the answers.

I guess this is parenting. I guess this is real life. It stinks.

Yesterday, we received notification from our kids’ school principal that they plan to hold Open Circles in class on Monday so the children can share any questions, concerns or feelings they have about this past week’s sadness and madness here in Boston.

First, let me say that I fully support the mission of the Open Circle program, which is described as:

  • Strengthening students’ [SEL] skills related to recognizing and managing emotions, developing care and concern for others, establishing positive relationships, making responsible decisions, and handling challenging situations constructively
  • Fostering safe, caring and highly-engaging classroom and school communities

Flash back four months to the days following the ghastly events in Newtown. School somberly informed us they’d be holding Open Circles in each class. I understand why it was necessary: many were distraught and we needed to provide a forum in which facts could be confirmed, mistruths corrected and, most of all, security and safety assured. But my husband and I, we struggled all weekend with the timing, feeling like ours hands were forced into having a discussion with children before school resumed, so that they could hear it from us first: the two people they depend on most for wellbeing, confidence, faith. I, for one, was not willing or ready for the responsibility of penetrating their carefree universe with the ugly reality that bad things happen to good people, without cause or sense. I needed more time to process, find the right words, consult with other parents. But the clock was ticking, the weekend hours running out before the Monday morning school bell and the wagging tongues of many kids.

To read the full post on Huffington Post, click here.

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.

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