Last Friday, when I heard the Sandy Hook news, it sent me into a tailspin. Along with the overwhelming sadness I felt the giant monster Fear sinking its arm down my throat to grip my stomach. I coped by hugging my kids too long for no apparent reason. I rented a rug doctor and shampooed all the carpets. I made long lists and cooked elaborate meals but I did not breathe a word about what happened to my kids.
I swallowed my fear.
Some of you may be dismayed by this admission. I sound like a housewife from the 1950s, don’t I? I can’t turn on the television or the radio without hearing the discussion. The other day, I listened to a panel of mental health professionals talk about how you should discuss the subject with your children and I agreed with everything they said. But still, I’m not going to tell my kids what happened.
We adults should talk, we must think and talk and we must find a solution, but I’m not sure our children should be within earshot. (Earshot. It never occurred to me before how much hearing can hurt.) Because I don’t want my kids to be afraid. I don’t want them walking down the hall at school, planning where they will hide if someone pulls out a gun. I want them to say hello to strangers, leave a window open on a hot day or even put on their bathing suits and squirt one another with a hose in the yard. I want them to be able to walk home from school by themselves, to go trick-or-treating without worry. I don’t want them to know much about pedophiles or child abuse or children killed by starvation, drones, or the people who are supposed to take care of them.
At our house, we have plans for fire and earthquake. We talk about how to cross the street and how some strangers are not so nice. We avoid GMOs and pesticides and don’t pet dogs without checking with the owner first, but that’s as specific as I’m going to get.
Because what good will come of telling them? How does fear help? If my 6 year old knows about how a group of kids just like her were gunned down, how will that help? If my big girl turns her beautiful mind toward bloody scenarios and devising plans to hide herself in a locker or under a table, what will that help? If my girls start looking at pens and rocks and sticks as the possible means of self-protection, how will that really help?
After all, isn’t rampant, excessive fear the main reason people own guns? What if politicians weren’t afraid to do what was right? What if we weren’t so scared all the time?
It’s my job to protect my kids. But I can only do the best I can do. Sometimes, things happen that are out of our control. There’s a long list of horrible things that might happen to them in this life, things I can’t predict or avoid. And sometimes, I protect them by not telling the whole story.
Yes, as adults, we have to do something better. We have to change our society. We adults should worry and debate and take action so our children don’t have to. But we also have to maintain a positive vision of the world so our kids grow up feeling welcome, connected, and capable. So for now, when my kids are still young, I’m going to hold the truth under my tongue.For just a little while longer, I want this kind of horror to be hypothetical.
“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.”
Does fear help or hurt you?
Is fearlessness a luxury we can no longer afford?
Did you tell your kids what happened?