How do you tell a child about the Boston Marathon blasts?
“What happened to an eight-year-old boy?” my daughter said on Tuesday morning. She is eight, too, and had swiped my phone – because, like most eight-year-olds, she wants and expects to know everything. She had read my latest text exchange, with a friend who was looking for one of their third-grade classmates. Their teacher had run the Marathon, and many of the kids had planned to stand along the route to cheer her on.
We were lucky, in our circle: the teacher was fine, the kids were fine, the parents who had run the race were fine. The frantic checking-in that consumed the first few hours after the explosion gave way to a strange and uncomfortable sort of calm. Now came the next phase: How to tell a child about a terrible thing, to give cheerful reassurances about her safety that are statistically true, but feel emotionally false?
I said what the experts recommend: Someone did a terrible thing, people were hurt, some of them died, and yes, one of them was an eight-year-old who didn’t live very far from you. But you and your friends are safe. There are so many people protecting you. And we’re going to do what we can to help.
“Didn’t we just do this a few months ago?” I thought. But if my daughter made connections, she didn’t say. And so, like so many parents around Boston this week, I put on a cheery face and tried to resume normal life.
This is school vacation week, the air is warming, the buds are on the trees, the daffodils are out, and all across the area, kids are expecting a week of heightened fun. It seems wrong to let an act of terror rob them of the innocent joys of spring break.
So as a parent, this all feels surreal. You’re heavy with loss and consumed with protection: hiding the front page of the newspaper, clicking swiftly past the TV news, reading Twitter updates surreptitiously. We drove to a Dorchester park yesterday, past flags at half-mast and extra police on street corners, signs of loss and heightened awareness that made me shudder. But the kids didn’t notice a thing. They were fixated on the slides.
It’s hard to know what happens in children’s minds: how much this bad news will creep into their psyches and change the way they view the world. After Newtown, when I reassured my daughter that no one could enter her school without being buzzed in, she replied, “Well, someone could shoot through the front door.” On the other hand, she’s not afraid of school. This week, every once in awhile, another question pops up: “Why was the boy at the marathon?” Then she asks if she can watch TV.
Boston is resilient, humans are resilient, and kids are even more so. Spring break will end and we’ll resume the daily routine, dropping our kids out of our sight every day with cheerful “see you laters” that are most likely true, into a world that’s mostly safe, but where the threat of violence always lurks.
This happens all over the world, I know. In some places, the violence comes daily. Each nearby act of terror feels like an induction to reality: Most people are good, but a few have the desire and the means to hurt other people. Every so often, they’ll succeed.
But also, there are daffodils and slides.
We did this a few months ago. We’ll surely do it again. And, like children, we’ll ask the right questions and move on.