My house has been utterly devoid of media since Friday afternoon when news of the Newtown, Connecticut shooting broke. After my last class on Friday at 2pm, I walked to my car feeling happy and relieved because it was the end of the semester. Then I started up the car and NPR with it, and I heard what had happened at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. I sat in my running car in the college faculty parking lot and sobbed.
Then I started worrying about Tink.
How could I tell her about this? How could I not tell her about this?
Tink’s anxiety has become a significant problem in the last year. She has trouble spending the night away from home. She has trouble sleeping. The list of things that frighten her has expanded from tornadoes to include elevators, fire, airplanes . . . it’s a long list. She’s getting help from a therapist now, and it’s making a difference, but it’s a slow process.
When Aurora happened, I didn’t tell her about it. I shielded her from the news coverage. When she finally heard the story months later from someone at school, she refused to go to the movie theater because she was afraid. It took every trick of distraction that I could muster to get her to walk through the theater doors again.
On Friday, I worried about what would happen when she heard about Newtown – an atrocity committed in a school so like her own. I worried that she wouldn’t go back to school on Monday.
I wanted to keep the news from her completely. How can you tell a 9-year-old that someone shot children in an elementary school? I am angry at everything – that man; his mother and her gun collection; the NRA; our inability to treat mental health problems; the health insurance industry that makes it so difficult to get help for mental health problems; our stupid, stupid gun culture; our violence saturated media – all of it. I shouldn’t have to tell my 9-year-old that there is such unfathomable horror in the world.
There shouldn’t be such unfathomable horror in the world.
When we got home Friday afternoon, I raced into the house ahead of my kids and switched off the radio in the kitchen and then the radio in my bedroom. NPR is usually a constant presence in my house. We don’t watch much television, but the radio is always on. Or it was until Friday.
I needed time to figure out what to say and how to say it. I knew if I didn’t tell her first, she would hear about it at school on Monday. I read everything I could find about how to talk about this kind of atrocity with children. I didn’t sleep easily Friday night.
Finally, on Saturday afternoon, IT Guy and I sat down with Tink. I told her something had happened in the news that we needed to tell her. I told her a man had gone into a school in Connecticut, which is far away from here, and shot some adults and children and killed them. I told her that the police had come immediately, and the man was now dead. I told her all the other children and adults in the building were safe. I told her that she was safe. I explained to her all the things her school does and that we do to keep her safe.
And she was okay. She said she didn’t have any questions and she didn’t feel unsafe. Then she went off to play at a friend’s house. She didn’t mention it again.
I feel like we handled it well, but I’m worried about tomorrow. Tomorrow is school. Our house remains a media free zone because there is so much I didn’t tell her. But school?
I didn’t tell her it was an elementary school. I didn’t give her any details about the children who were killed. I didn’t tell her the shooter forced his way into the building, despite the locked doors. I didn’t tell her that teachers died protecting their students.
I didn’t tell her that this was a school like her school and kids like her friends and teachers like her teachers.
But I’m worried that another kid at school might tell her all of that tomorrow.
My house has been a media free zone all weekend because there are things kids don’t need to know. But I am also aware not all parents believe this. I am sure there are other students at my daughter’s school whose parents did not shield them from the news. I am sure there are kids who know every last, horrific detail, and I am afraid they will have no hesitation to talk about all of it at school tomorrow.
If they do, I know my daughter will call me sobbing and asking me to pick her up. I know one of the few places she feels safe right now will be taken from her.
But I can’t keep her home either. I have no reason for it. Pulling her out of her routine for no reason is not going to help her anxiety. Plus, I have to work tomorrow and so does IT Guy . . . and we have to work the day after that and the day after that. If I keep her home tomorrow, she’ll have to go on Tuesday . . . or Wednesday . . .
When you’re a kid, you think your parents have answers. You think they know what to do.
But I don’t. I don’t know what to do. All I have is endless sorrow for the parents who lost their children on Friday, endless fury for the person who took those children’s lives, and endless fear because I am powerless to protect my own children from such violence and horror.
I told Ace about what happened on Friday after Tink went to play with a friend. I outlined the basic events for him in slightly more detail than I gave to Tink, but still didn’t get too specific. He is older than Tink and not prone to anxiety, but if I can spare him the images that I can’t get out of my head, then I will. He seems to be okay, but I’m shielding him, too. I wish someone was shielding me.