fear

(image courtesy RasMarley)

(image courtesy RasMarley)

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.”

–Frank Herbert

Does fear help or hurt you?
Is fearlessness a luxury we can no longer afford?
Did you tell your kids what happened?

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About Anna Fonté

Girl in the Hat, aka Anna Fonté, is an author who writes about invisibility, outsider status, everyday monsters, and her attempts to befriend the neighborhood crows. The things she writes want you to look at them.

42 comments

  1. Anna, My boys are all grown and I always used the following advice to myself; If they ask then discuss it until you see their interest drop off. They are not having the same kind of thoughts that you are. They may simply be curious. But with this continuous asinine “news” coverage I don’t think I would have them near it. This is way too much for even an adult to listen to. It is bound to give a child many questions that can not be answered. Children do not need to have these type of questions bouncing around in their tender little heads for weeks or months on end. That is my opinion but probably not everybody’s. Wally

    • Thankfully, only one kid in my 6 yo’s class mentioned it, and the teacher handled it smoothly. It’s true, Wally, some questions can’t be answered. I don’t want my kids to hear any of this debate but I hope that it ends in positive change.

  2. You did right not to tell them Anna – the whole world is propped up on fear – fear of strangers, of ‘foreigners’, fear of unemployment, of not having enough money, of losing your house, of cancer and ultimately, of death.

    It’s what drives ‘survivalists’ to build bunkers and stockpile (and who in their right mind would actually want to live in a world where only those sort of people had survived?!) – and of course, it’s what largely drives the sale of arms, which in the mind of some people translates into seeing others as a potential threat – or a potential target.

    The media whips up fear and creates further hysteria because it’s ideal fodder for boosting viewing figures and newspaper sales. It thrives on people being fearful. Losing the fear, somehow, has got to be the first step in regaining some sense of sanity in all this – we can’t keep ‘tooling up’ for ever! G

    • All network news stations seem fear-based. I just can’t watch them at all. In fact, many shows and movies and ads seem to be selling fear. I agree- it’s the easiest way to get us to spend money. And money makes the US go around, doesn’t it? (Perhaps we should levy a fine against fear-mongers. Then they’d have to find another way to get sales.)

  3. Have you noticed how in the – oh let’s say- past 20 years how news coverage has just gotten out of hand. Everything has to be covered, recovered ad nauseum… It’s horrid. It was a tragic event, but to me if we keep rehashing the event it just encourages copy cats… I think you’re right not to bring it up unless they do.

    • It is disgusting. If there is no disaster, they freak out about even the smallest event. I think we should all boycott shows that try to instill paranoia. Send letters to the advertisers telling them why.

  4. When I was a kid that age, they were teaching us how to hide under our desks in case of a nuclear attack!
    But, somehow that was at least personal than another person coming into the room and shooting us,

    Mike

    • Get under the desk, bend over, and kiss your ass goodbye. When I taught high school English, after Columbine, they devised a protocol in case a shooter came to campus. I was supposed to turn off the lights, lock the door, and tell the kids to hide under their desks. Sick, isn’t it?

  5. gailytr

    i remember when scary movies first came out and how everyone rushed to see them.as i teenager i saw “psycho”. it ruiined showers for me for a long time and i can still go into fear if i want to and am in the shower. i don’t think this has done me any good at all.
    but i do think that fear , a long with pain, are a message for us and that message is to get up and do something about it-go see a doctor or do something to change a situation, or whatever.

    • I agree about pain– pain is your body telling you something. And sometimes I do have a fear that helps me avoid a problem. But fear is mental and oftentimes unfounded. Sometimes we fear things that don’t happen, or don’t fear things that do. Fear is not completely trustworthy, I guess is what I’m saying.

  6. Absolutely nothing can be gained by telling a young child about a tragedy like this. As you pointed out, it’s too random, too personal and absolute to be averted. I would rather direct his fear to everyday dangers, so he sees there is a practical use for fear and learns how to use it. I think we’re too free with the information we share with our children. I believe in giving them what they need to navigate in the world, and as little of this kind of violence as possible.

  7. I think you’re right about your approach. Watch the news, read the papers and web sites–our culture seems based on being afraid of each other. Don’t let your kids fall into that trap.

    BTW: It’s fear of a different kind–of getting involved–that’s kept politicians and the public from standing up to the gun nuts and led to so many tragedies. We have an opportunity to change that now. But we will have to push hard to make it happen.

  8. I don’t have my own kids, so I can’t imagine what this must be like as a parent. But watching my little nephews and niece grow up all too quick, I can only say that the less they have to worry about, the better.

  9. I really appreciated this entry. I think, no matter what political and social reforms we make in light of this tragedy, our job is to make the world a little bit less like the gunman’s. Giving your children a childhood in which they can play and be free is doing just that.

    • I wonder about him. I’ve been too horrified by the news to tune in to hear what they’re saying about him.

      • I’m the exact opposite of you, in that I actually have a need to watch every single detail unfold, as a way of processing it. But, what I can say is that they don’t actually know a ton about him, just that he grew up in a wealthy family, was quiet and withdrawn but not necessarily someone you would think would be violent, and that his mom had quit her job to care for him. To me, that’s one of the most horrifying things about tragedies like these: how can we know and intervene earlier, when it can be so difficult to identify these people early on? Who has the legal right to intervene anyway, and what does intervention actually look like? It’s just hard to know.

        • I’d much rather get my information through people like you, Leah. There will always be things we don’t know and don’t understand and can’t control. But we can always do better, too.

        • The answer isen’t fear I believe it is knowledge. These bloody rampages are as old as history itself.
          People don’t snap because they are happy. It seems like the kid had serious problems before the attack. Else why would a mother need to stay home and care for a twenty year old? I don’t think she should have kept those weapons around a person in that condition but by the time she realised it it may have been too late. I hope I never see what motivated that person to do what he did. There was a sniper case in the sixties – whitman I think. the man wrote confused letters about not being able to controll his impulses and suffered from headaches. After he shot sevel people from a balcony and was killed himself they found a tumer in
          the part of his brain having to do with impulse controll. The man had not been diagnosed with anything.
          Don’t feel guilty for being curious – your mind is telling you to seek knowledge, because that has lead to
          things getting fixed – fear and panic are probably what motivated this person as well – they cause us to
          react with anger and hate and lose sight of logic.

          But children aren’t scientists – at least not yet. So why should they be ones who have ponder this?
          Perhaps the best answers are questions.

          Does fear help?

  10. Todd

    We don’t have TV or the newspaper in our house. We watch shows on Netflix and get “news” as we want it on the Internet. It’s been this way for many years now and I don’t feel at all detached from the world. Somehow the info still gets in… like this shooting. In my opinion, the mass media is just so miserable that I won’t partake. Occasionally I’ll be a day or two behind some national or international tragedy but so what? This shooting is an example. It’s horrible, of course. But it is random, there is nothing I can do about it, it does not affect anyone I know, my empathy from 2000 miles away won’t help the victims, so why should this take center stage in my awareness. They are selling it. It makes them money and it distracts us from what should be important in our lives. There are lots of things to be really fearful of, but you won’t generally hear about them on the mass media. Such as: vaccine damage, the autism epidemic, GMO poisoning, dental amalgam poisoning, Hubbert’s curve, electronic voting, etc, etc. The mass media directs our attention away from truly important issues and redirects it to sensational ones that we feel emotionally, but can do nothing about.

  11. Being a parent just keeps getting more difficult…as does being a child.
    Does fear help or hurt?
    Is fearlessness a luxury we can no longer afford?
    You ask good and perplexing questions. As Americans, I wonder if we don’t fear too much. Or maybe we spend too much energy fearing all the wrong things, like germs or cholesterol or whether the government is trying to take over our lives. Thiese silly little worries may blind us to the important things.
    I don’t know what to make of those beautiful lives all wiped out due to the misplaced angst of one poor individual. I do know that the death of children is not new in the world. In many countries parents and kids face death on a daily or hourly basis. These people carry on in the face of constant threats and fear. I don’t know what toll the fear takes on them, but they carry on and they do survive. Just as our ancestors survived after they lost children to hunger and disease and accident. I know it’s not the same kind of loss…or maybe it is. The loss of any child, at any time in history and by any means is unfathomable.

    • I wonder if it is more difficult now or just a different kind of difficulty. I think you’re right about fearing the wrong things. It seems like there’s a conspiracy to redirect attention to less important things in this country. I think we’re all part of the conspiracy.

  12. Because of the concern and honesty in your posts and the good in their message, this award is for you.

    http://pjb1943.wordpress.com/2012/12/20/1318/

    Paul

  13. Fear is infectious and hugely damaging.. I say let it go and be the light you want to see in the world.. Change yourself and change the world..
    Happy holidays Anna..

  14. I agree with you here. Fear is all about the future, worry about the future. It can prevent us from living a full life in the present.

  15. Read The Gift of Fear by Gavin DeBecker. A reminder to trust your instincts because they can alert and save and help avoid harm. I think one of our responsibilities as parents is to help kids hone their instincts so they can one day take care of themselves. So bit by bit we teach them about our beautiful and sometimes brutal world.

    • Chris! I completely agree that our instincts can guide us well. We don’t pay enough attention to what our instincts (and our bodies) tell us, although I think there is a big qualitative difference between fear and instinct. (Please forgive me for missing your comment. I seem to have lost my mind this holiday season.)

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