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Why we chose to tell our kids about Sandy Hook

December 19, 2012

tgiving2012-11He was reading a children’s encyclopedia. The Boy has always loved reference books; you can never know too many random facts. As I got closer to him, I could see diagrams of the reproductive organs. I quietly took a step backwards, hoping he didn’t see me. Back away.

“Hey Mama? So the eggs come from the ovaries and sperm from the testes? And it takes an egg and a sperm to make a baby?” He’d been studying.

“Yep. You’ve got it, buddy!” Pleasedon’taskmore. Pleasedon’taskmore. He didn’t ask more, and I didn’t offer extra info. He didn’t ask how the sperm and egg actually get together.  His daddy can take it from here.

The point is, he wanted to know an age appropriate amount of information, and that’s what we gave him. Someday he’ll need to know how the sperm and egg make a baby. Today? Not so much.

Last Friday, as the horrific events in Connecticut unfolded, I watched the news in total shock. I emailed The Girl’s teacher and asked her to hug my baby. She did. The sadness was suffocating. I wanted to check The Kids out of school. Instead, I waited. When they finally got off the bus, tears welled in my eyes as they happily ran up the driveway. Big hugs and extra kisses.

I don’t regret it at all, but the TV was still on when they got home, with some 24 hour news source reporting the killings. The Girl, having gone straight outside to play, missed it completely, but The Boy didn’t. That’s one of the many differences between our two. The Boy wants the facts. He wants to know how and why. The Girl wants to know what they were wearing and what they had for snack.

“What do you think about all that?” I asked The Boy.

“It’s terrible. Who does that to innocent children? I’m glad the guy who did it died, because he sure would have a lot of unhappy people to deal with.” In his boyish but 45 year old way, he was soft spoken but directed.

“Does that scare you?”

“Well, it is a little scary, but I think sometimes things like this just happen. We can’t be scared all the time. It’s like when someone dies. It’s sad and terrible, but life has bad things sometimes.” Bless his heart. I’m so proud of my boy. I’m not proud of the fact that we live in a nation where he thinks tragic situations are as common as death, but he seems to have a pretty good grip.

Because he was up to speed, it was only fair to tell The Girl. You see, they talk about things, as kids do. I brought her in, holding her on my lap, and told her an abbreviated version of the day’s events. She rested her head on my shoulder and I held her tight. “Does that scare you?”

“A little, Mama.”

“Well, baby, if you want to talk about it more we can. Just know that your teachers do everything they can to keep you safe every day, ok?” Forehead kisses.

“Ok, Mama.”

Death isn’t something we want our kids to witness. Hell, as an adult, I’d rather not witness it either. It’s terrible and sad. But it happens. At about the same time as the first sperm and egg story, a family member passed away. He had been sick, and he was an older man. The Boy had been to visit him days before he died. At the request of the man’s wife, we brought our then five(ish) year old son to the visitation. As soon as we got there, I noticed the open casket. The funeral directors assured me that The Boy was too short to see anything, so we went in. Within ten seconds, I saw the The Boy do a triple take. He’d seen it. I quickly ushered him out to hopefully avoid the “That man is sleeping!” or “Wake up Mr. Bill!” questions that were inevitable with a 5 year old.

As soon as we were outside, he said “Mama, that man was sleeping.”

Because The Man and I had already talked about it, I knew what to say. “No, buddy, Mr. Bill died.” Before you call me harsh and unfeeling, please understand my tone. It was gentle.

“Oh, he can’t talk anymore?”

I went on to explain that he couldn’t eat, sleep, breathe or do anything on earth anymore. He said, “Oh, Ok. So he will go to heaven, but people here won’t see him again.”

You got it, kiddo.

We’ve gotten mixed reviews regarding our approach to tragedy. The Man and I weren’t sheltered from bad news when we were little, so we’ve chosen to treat our kids the same way. Many of you believe that children should be children as long as possible. I couldn’t agree more. My kids shouldn’t have to carry the burden of these terrible things. That’s why I’m here. I know what mine can handle, though.

Death is terrible. It’s sad. No one wants to talk about it. It is part of life, though. Just like sperm and eggs.

There’s no right way to handle this. I wish we didn’t have to worry about it at all. Whether you decide to tell your kids or not, you’ll know the best way.

Before school on Monday, I reminded the kids that not everyone would want to talk about the shootings. They could ask their teachers questions or wait until they were back home with me. The Boy has wanted to talk about consequences for the killer. The Girl just wanted to sit on my lap. They’re handling it differently. We can handle it. I’m more than happy to have the chance. family silhouette 2

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. December 19, 2012 9:11 pm

    You did exactly the right thing…he was not sleeping…he was dead. You will find that kids deal with it better than adults do….they process information differently…..the boy backs me up on that….trust me….I’m the village undertaker.

    • Jenny permalink*
      December 20, 2012 2:19 am

      I thought about you when I wrote this. I know you deal with it every day. Thanks for the confidence boost. This one felt a little too raw and controversial and created a few more nerves than usual. Thanks for always being a supporter.

  2. Colleen permalink
    December 19, 2012 10:48 pm

    Beautifully handled and written. You’re a wonderful mother and I hope to be as level and loving with my future kids. Xo

    • Jenny permalink*
      December 20, 2012 2:19 am

      Love you, my friend. Thank you for the kind words.

  3. Sheila Quinn permalink
    December 20, 2012 10:01 am

    Only you know how to parent YOUR children in this sort of situation. Children are all different just like the rest of us, your job as parent is to help them interpret the world, put things in context and give them the tools to go on with life in a healthy, happy manner. Sometimes that means that means protecting them, sometimes it means supporting them, sometimes it means going through it with them. If you need inspiration, look to my cousin Sharron Reeves–she and Freddy handled these matters with more love and grace than anyone I know.

  4. December 26, 2012 5:48 pm

    Excellent point of view! There’s always a level that things can be approached for any age. Well done!

    • Jenny permalink*
      December 28, 2012 12:37 am

      Thanks, Rach. I’d like to think we’re on the same page most of the time – whether it comes to picking a silver pattern or teaching our kids about life…

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