My oldest son is seeming far too big lately. He is seven. Eight in August. He does many things with grand independence. He is brave and curious and funny. He asks great questions, and he doesn’t seem phased when he stumps me. He accepts my returned questions, my “hmm…we’ll have to look that up” with interest and enthusiasm. He’s been this way practically since birth, so I can’t say that these traits necessarily indicate growing up, but there is a subtle difference. His questions and his observations are tied to past knowledge now. He is building that spider’s web of information that we all carry around in our brains. The web is strong, yet flexible. It adjusts to incorporate new pieces and grows wider with time and effort.
I think it is important to keep some of the harsher truths of the world away from the eyes and ears of small children. I’m not saying that we should lie to the young people in our lives. Oh no. But they should not have to carry the full weight of evil and grief and darkness yet. They can take in the truth in manageable bites that ultimately carry the same big message: you are safe, and you are loved. Based upon that notion (and a general lack of interest), we don’t watch television news. Independently, my husband and I look at the news online. I usually turn to MSN or CNN for a quick update, and we both like to read the good old Pittsburgh Post Gazette.
So…given the fact that my kids rarely see or hear the news, I was really surprised that my boy knew so much about the Boston bombing this week. We were driving to our homeschool co-op, and I decided to tell him some of the story because I wanted to talk about how God works through tragedy and how people around the site of the bombing jumped in to help. I began by sharing the circumstances of the event, and he interrupted to provide many of the details–from the few details that were available only a day after the bombing. At first I was surprised, but then I realized that Cory and I had been talking about the bombing on Monday evening. Even though our kids weren’t in the room, apparently they were in hearing distance, and this kid of mine took in what we were saying. Mental Note to a Mom of a Big Kid (all kids, actually): He is listening!
But here is what stopped me in my tracks. He made a connection between this event and the theater shooting during the Batman movie last year (July 2012). His web of knowledge is growing. There was a time when “last year” was too long ago for him to actively recall, and now he can play connect-the-dot with two headline-grabbing, heart-breaking events. Two horrifying tragedies. My heart sinks as I write this because he is building a timeline of terror, a list that all of us have.
My first memory of national mourning was the Challenger explosion. I was five and a half years old, a kindergartener. I remember my grandparents picking me up at school because one day per week my mom helped the treasurer at our church count the weekly offering. Grandma and Papa took me and my little sister to lunch at the Five & Ten, a practice I remember fondly. I always ordered grilled cheese and chocolate milk. Papa would share bites of his coconut cream pie. That day, the small restaurant was buzzing with anxious conversation. People were excited. I saw the footage of the explosion later, and when I was in first grade, we read about the accident in our Weekly Reader. For years, I thought of those astronauts every time I said the pledge of allegiance or heard the national anthem. I’m not sure why the pledge and The Star Spangled Banner were so closely tied to the Challenger in my mind, but I connected the event with heroism and patriotism–maybe because for elementary children of that time, the telling of the story hinged on the bravery of school teacher, Christa McAullife. I held on to that story. In ninth grade American Cultures, I wrote a report about McAullife, and she still comes to mind from time to time. I think of what teachers will do to catch the interest of their students and how they model a love for learning.
What will my son take away from the scary events that are coming into his awareness now? The two tragedies in his immediate memory were not accidents. They don’t carry patriotism as their major theme. They were acts of terror, of evil. I’m the mom of a big kid now. It is up to me and to Cory to frame this in a way that conveys truth and hope in the same breath. It’s terrifying, but I’m grateful to be in this position with a smart young man who wants to think things through.
I read the following article this morning, and it inspired some of my thinking today. I am a huge Mr. Rogers fan, and this piece brought me to tears. Of every celebrity in all of time, Fred Rogers is the one I wish I could have met.