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As my husband carried our sleeping 5-year-old son up the stairs and into his bedroom from the car late last night, I breathed a motherly sigh of relief. He had just returned home from his first fishing and camping trip with his daddy and his uncles. While I trusted those three men full-heartedly with the safety and well-being of our little boy, I have to admit, I was a nervous wreck all weekend thinking about all of the things that could go wrong in that state park, 4 hours away from home in a remote area with little to no cell phone coverage. But they brought my baby home, safe and sound, freshly bathed and in his footed fleece dinosaur pajamas, surely dreaming of the campfire stories that were told, the marshmallows they roasted and the rainbow trout he caught and reeled in all by himself. I could rest easy that night. My child was back in the safety of his home, his memory bank as full as my jittery heart.
He bounced right out of bed early this morning, eager to tell me stories about his weekend adventures as he got ready for the start of a new week at school. I groggily sat down next to him on the couch, coffee in hand, and turned the TV on to catch bits and pieces of the news through his animated stories.
“Over 50 Dead and 200 Injured In Largest Mass Shooting In US History”
My heart sank as I quickly lowered the volume, my eyes fixated on images of horrified concert-goers, running in all directions and huddling together in whatever they could find to shield their bodies from gunfire. I glanced at my son, snuggled up next to me in his warm pajamas, his Mickey Mouse doll under one arm, taking bites of his chocolate chip waffle as he happily recounted his important job of gathering leaves for the campfire his Uncle Nick had built the night before last. I debated turing the TV off, protecting my child’s innocence from the imagery and panic in the voices of those being interviewed. But then, he suddenly stopped talking in the middle of his story, looked up at me with concerned and knowing eyes, and said “Shooting people is bad, Mama. Using guns to hurt people is inappropriate, right?”
I didn’t even think he was paying attention to the news this morning. I, myself, was having trouble comprehending what was unfolding in front of my eyes, listening to bits and pieces of hysterical accounts of last night’s tragedy, trying to piece it all together in my head, and there sat my sweet little boy, in his dinosaur pajamas, making sense of the unimaginable in the simplest, yet truest way.
Kids are amazing like that. They have the ability to take in the world around them and to make sense of it all, separating good from bad. They’re quietly observing and constantly absorbing information, and forming opinions based on their internal moral compass. I see this more and more with my son. His knowledge and understanding of both the beauty and ugliness in the world is profound. But it makes me incredibly sad. My 5-year-old son should not have to see such ugliness. He should not have to understand why people in our country are in such despair. He should not have to grow up in a country where 20 innocent children and 6 teachers are gunned down at their school, 32 people are shot to death on a college campus and 49 people are shot and killed in a nightclub. He should not have to sit by his mother, on a cool Monday morning in October as he gets ready for a new week in Kindergarten, and ask her why 59 people were shot from a hotel window with a machine gun and killed at a concert as a country singer he loves performs on stage.
But he does. This is the reality of the world we live in today. This is what our children see. It’s what they have to absorb and make sense of. Waking up this morning and turning on the news, I realized that, as my son gets older, lake safety and wild animals and the warmth of his sleeping bag during camping trips will be the least of my worries. I worry every single morning I put him on the school bus, wondering if the unthinkable could happen and he might not come home. And now that he’s older and more aware, he’s beginning to carry the burden of these worries on his shoulders too.
I know our children can’t stay innocent forever. We are living in a time and age where they will carry the weight of emotional burdens we never had to as children. As parents, we are treading new waters, trying to decide how to approach these difficult conversations and teach valuable lessons about life and death, and everything in between. It’s not going to be easy. And it certainly isn’t fair. But we have to remember that our children are smart and resilient. We can’t – and shouldn’t – turn the news off when tragedies occur, and completely shelter our children from reality. This is the world they are living in. This is the world we are giving them. We need to bare it all to them – the good and the bad – and let them process it all in their own way, so that they can carry these images and stories of tragedy with them from their childhood throughout their lives, and use them as inspiration to make the world better for their children.