“Mama, why (are) you sad? Are you crying?”
It’s a scene that has happened all too often in my 3-year-old’s short life. Far too many times to count in the past year of him being aware of others’ feelings.
Last Sunday, we turned on CNN while I was packing our belongings up to head back home from a week of vacation… the news was reporting that there had been a mass shooting in Orlando. The deadliest in our country. An act of hate and terrorism. My heart sank. A week before that it was because a Memphis police officer gave his life in order to protect and serve the citizens of our city, after a deranged person went on a shooting spree through our city’s “safest” zip code. Two weeks before that, it was because a rising young mother and soon-to-be high school graduate was murdered in a random drive-by shooting in our “safest” zip code.
There have been more.
As a parent, you immediately think “What if that was my child?” Because every victim of every senseless act of violence is just that. Someone’s child. And every time my child asks me why I’m crying, I try to explain to him that there are very bad people in the world with ugly hearts that hurt others and that it hurts my heart. There’s always the why. “Why are there bad people?” “Why do they want to hurt people?” I don’t really have the words to explain it as I can’t even really comprehend it myself. “I dunno, babe. I just dunno,” is my usual response.
I am a child of the news. Born in the 80’s but grasped the impact media had on the world in the 90’s, especially when it came to tragedies. It was a huge deal to get a TV in my elementary school classroom to watch current events then come home and watch those same events with my family. I remember the first real current event I ever watched and followed was the Nicole Simpson & Ron Goldman murders–it was all over TV that summer. The next year I vividly remember watching the verdict in my 6th grade classroom. The first tragedy I had ever seen and tried too hard to comprehend was the Oklahoma City Bombing. That was horrific. I cried every time I saw something on TV about it. Was I scared? Of course I was–I was 12. But I had a mom whose style of parenting was very much “this is the way the world is.” Her goal with this style of parenting was not to induce fear in me but to help me be aware of the real world and how to handle it and myself. She always addressed my questions and concerns. The lessons of learning how to be empathetic and how to show compassion for others far outweighed the fear of the evils of the world. With that said, I have always been aware of the horrible tragedies that have been broadcast on the television screen.
Mass shootings have always stood out to me, bombings, and natural disasters. I was a part of the “Class of 9/11,” the first wave of high school seniors to graduate right after September 11th. The first set of “adults” set free in a post-9/11 world. Like many of us, tragedies happen so much on a local, national, and global level that I became immune to it. That all changed when I was 6 months pregnant with Theo and the heart wrenching Sandy Hook tragedy happened. It hit me–really hit me–that I was bringing this child into a world that was full of so much hate, so much anger, and so much helplessness. I remember telling my husband I would never let Theo go anywhere. I was going to put him in a bubble. How could we give an innocent child a world like this? What are we going to do?
The answer from my optimistic, always positive and encouraging husband was this: “It’s simple. The most important thing we are going to teach him is to be kind. Like that Abraham Lincoln quote, ‘Whatever you are, be a good one.’ That is what we will expect of him: to be good at being kind.” What does that entail you might wonder? How do you teach your child to be kind in a world that wants them to hate?