Sunday, July 22, 2012

Telling the children

I first noticed the news early Thursday when I checked my email before waking the kids - Yahoo had two stories on it, which seemed excessive, but (I processed slowly), yes, this actually did seem kind of a big deal. Biggish. I still didn't think about telling the kids until M. called from Canada, to make sure we were all right  and for reassurance, to touch base, the way people do in the wake of something awful.

"Why'd dad call?" Helen asked, sensing a shift in tone right away. It was a perfect segue. I bailed.

"Just to let us know when he'll be home," I said. "Dinnertime tomorrow, yay!"

I thought again about telling them as I drove to camp, except that it didn't seem quite right - oh bytheway here's this totally disturbing thing that will freak you the freak out, have a good day at camp & don't forget sunscreen, love ya, bye! - so I didn't.

I admit also that I couldn't figure out the right tone. Matter-of-fact is my default mode, and it would work in this situation, except just the fact of giving an event attention in the bright sunshiny morning before heading off to camp elevates the telling from matter-of-fact to Big News in Hushed Tones, which is the parental conversational mode I find most difficult.

So I bailed, which, I realized immediately afterward, meant that they were thus going to find out from other kids or their grandma. Normal Big Events this would be fine/ unavoidable, but I was belatedly understanding that this might not be a Normal Big Event.

Si heard about it in camp - he's doing a middle school basketball camp where the coaches pride themselves in showing impressionable preteens the right path to manhood, and they took it upon themselves to bring it up and have a group discussion and probably do some prayer, which I appreciate, even though that's not the thing we do at our house.

Helen's camp didn't bring it up. She first heard about it when she and Si turned on the TV at grandma's, looking for cartoons, and stumbled immediately into Hour Nine of the Live Coverage. It didn't maybe help that grandma wanted to keep watching, like just fifteen minutes - it was on every channel!  "Helen was very upset," she reported later. Uh, you think?

So: parenting fail. I think she'll be fine - yes, she screamed when someone selling Dish TV knocked on the door after dinner, and at bedtime she didn't want to be farther than arm's length from me - but such jumpiness is normal, and would have happened however she'd found out. This thing is seriously disturbing, after all. I don't think I'm going to be blithely entering a movie theater anytime soon, and I wouldn't be surprised if seven-year-olds around the entire Denver metro area were a skittish about movie going for months.

Still. I skim over the articles like "Theater shooting aftermath: Tips for Helping Children Cope" and mostly what I think is, this doesn't apply to us. Even though actually, this time, it kind of does. I get irascible when the Grandma calls at 9:30 at night to remind me that what the networks are saying is to remind kids that this is an isolated incident, very rare, and that it's still safe to go to movies, "So be sure to tell her that." (Appreciate the thought, but I'll come up with own language for reassurance, thanks.) I hug the kids and ask how they're feeling ("Fine," says my noncommunicator, manfully. "I'm skeeeered," says the other, maaaybe playing up the dramatic excitement of the situation and the chance to sleep on mama's floor just a smidgen.) I remind them that they're safe, even if they are sleeping on mama's floor and not in mama's bed. I limit news coverage to None. We read extra chapters in Ramona, where things like this don't happen.

In the end, I don't worry so much about what I can control, or even the big obvious things that I can't. I'm going to lose more sleep fretting over the sadness of the people killed than fretting that something like this could happen to us, for example.

No, I worry about what I still have trouble with: the fact that other people are going to interrupt my reaction and my kids' reaction to what's going on and bring their own brand of tragedy processing to the table. Some people are going to be process-by-talking-about-it (Hellooo, MIL!). Some are going to be process-by-dismissing-it (Helloo, FIL!). Some people are going to be process-by-trying-to-control-the-narrative, which is what upsets me the most. It's like that time in kindergarten when my best friend kept telling me these horror stories - child crushed to death by a circus elephant, school bus overtaken by bees - and then insisting that they were not only true but local. Every time I talked to her I got more upsetting news about The Way The World Is, even though we were living in the same world. It took me until high school to learn how to avoid people like this, and even now I have trouble processing when someone I work with or do kid things with has a really opposite opinion of how the world operates.

But for now this isn't the issue, I don't think. For now it's fine to stick with my small-but-sturdy toolbox of coping mechanisms - listening, avoiding, and remembering that things are mostly good most of the time - and to let the kids who need it sleep on the floor.


Jess said...

Our nanny lives right across the street from that movie theater. She was invited to attend with a group of friends, but declined because she wasn't feeling well. Her friends were scattered in theaters 8 and 10; none was in 9. They are all OK, but shaken up.

She came to work on Friday morning and we were talking about their experience as Callum and the 16-month-old girl we nanny share with toddled around the room, sharing blocks and pushing a doll in a stroller, and I felt so grateful that they are too young to know what's going on, and sad that they ever have to lose that innocence. I know that they will grow up and there will be other tragedies and terrifying events and he will be aware and he will have questions, and we will have to figure out how to help him process those, but for now I'm so glad that he's tiny and unaware.

Melospiza said...

We had to address this a little last year with the tsunami in Japan, but that was both far away and not something that could ever happen in Colorado. This is hitting our seven-year-old right in the middle of her awareness-of-the-world-and-realizing-it-is-scary phase, and it's difficult.

And then our silent one - I worry, a tiny little bit, exactly what he's picking up and taking away. He's only a few years away from the age when he will fit the demographic of most victims, as well as many shooters. It's premature to warn him to never, ever do this. But I worry.

artemisia said...

I have been thinking about you and the kids! You are such a thoughtful parent. You will do the right thing, and have.

Do take care of yourselves!