I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville writer with a passion for family travel, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark. Want to get in touch? Use the CONTACT form at the top of the page.
December 20, 2012
I decided not to tell my kids about Newtown.
In retrospect, it was the wrong decision.
Not for my son — He’s five years old and still firmly believes that when you die, you can “hit the start button again” and “get more life-zes,” no matter how many times I’ve tried to explain that real life doesn’t work like a video game.
But my daughter is eight, and while it made sense to keep the news to ourselves over the weekend, I realized as I let her go to school on Monday that someone was almost certain to talk about it in her classroom- particularly since many of the kids have older siblings.
And so I was nervous on Monday while she was at school, wondering what I was going to say if she asked me about what had happened, and how I was going to explain if she asked me why I hadn’t told her the news myself. But when I picked them up from school that afternoon, both my children were in good spirits, seemingly oblivious to what had happened on Friday.
“How was school?” I asked tentatively as they piled into the backseat.
“Great!” Punky said. She went on to tell me about her day and all the things that had happened, with no mention of what had been plastered across the news all weekend long. I breathed a big sigh of relief. Maybe, somehow, this would not become a part of my kids’ consciousness. Maybe they would miraculously escape having to worry that someone was going to come into their school and kill them, even as I now worry about it for the next twelve years. A mom can dream, right?
“Mommy, I’m afraid to go to school,” my daughter said a few hours later, while I was working on dinner.
I put down the paring knife. “Why?” I asked her carefully.
“Because of what happened in Connecticut.”
“What did you hear happened?” I said, trying to keep it casual.
“Twenty children were murdered,” she said solemnly, “and six teachers.”
“Who told you this?” I asked. She named a classmate, and went on to share all the lurid details the classmate had given her.
No, friends, my child didn’t learn about Newtown from a caring family member. She learned about it from an 8-year-old friend. Epic mothering FAIL. And now it was time for major damage control.
Bad things happen sometimes, I told my daughter, but she needed to know that she was safe. “Think about it,” I told her. “There are thousands and thousands of elementary schools across the country. And this is the first time anyone has ever done this in an elementary school, in all the years that schools have been around.”
“And now,” I added, “since this happened, your teachers all had a meeting this afternoon to go over your safety plan. So even though you were already really safe, now you’re even safer because everyone’s thinking about it and how they can make sure this doesn’t happen at your school.”
She didn’t look convinced.
So I lied.
“And the guy who did it in Connecticut just walked into the school,” I said. “But your school has locks on all the doors, and no one can get in unless they’re let in by someone, right?”
She nodded, suddenly seeming much less afraid.
“So that guy wouldn’t have even been able to get into your school,” I said. Finally, she looked satisfied. A locked door? Now that made sense. And I know the psychologists among you are shaking your heads right now, but if you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you should know by now that I don’t always do things “right.” Sometimes, I just do what I have to do to get by– or in this case, to help my kid get by. Sorry.
“Anyway,” Punky said with bravado, “there was one six-year-old girl who survived. She just played dead and he didn’t shoot her. So that’s what I would do. I would just play dead.” A fierce look came into her eyes. Suddenly, she seemed far more sure of herself. “Thanks, Mommy,” she said, smiling a little before heading back into the den. I stood where I was as tears came to my eyes.
My tiny, pigtailed daughter now knows to play dead if a man comes into her classroom and starts shooting.
That’s her reality.
And it sucks.