I grew up watching the news. I worked in the news. I have always let my children watch the news. But yesterday, for the first time ever, I was going to censor my kids’ access to the news. I wasn’t going to let them watch the horror. I wasn’t going to discuss anything more than a gentle reminder about how important it is to listen to your teacher during a lockdown drill. I didn’t want to go there. I didn’t want to do more than hug my first grader so tight that he asked me to stop.
I just couldn’t go there.
After I finished eating dinner, I busied myself with normal after-dinner things. As I walked back up the hall into our living room, I stopped short. BigBrother was sitting on the couch. The news had been left on. I looked from the television in the darkened room to my son’s face, lit by the light of the horrific scenes on the screen. My breath caught in my throat, making an audible sound. He looked at me; all big eyes and innocence. I closed my eyes tightly and made my way to him.
A book rested on his lap. His new, much beloved book.
“Were you watching the news or reading, Buddy?”
Quietly, he responded. “Watching the news.”
He looked back toward the television and I turned my head with him. “What did you see?”
“A bad man went into a school and hurt a lot of kids.”
He does pay attention to what he sees on the news, I’ll give him that.
I told him that was true, that it happened. There’s no denying that it happened. And before I could think or breathe or doubt myself, I started talking about how when there’s a lockdown or tornado or fire drill at school, it’s important to listen to your teacher and not talk and do what you are told. I told him that his teacher and principal and other school staff would do their best to always keep him safe, just like Mommy and Daddy. He nodded. I looked back at him.
“How does the news make you feel?”
He thought. “A little sad.”
I nodded and kissed his head. “Me too, Buddy.”
As I explained the scenario to my mother-in-law later that evening, holed up in my vehicle in a parking lot with a peppermint mocha — just wanting to be alone for a few minutes — she said it was probably better that he heard it from me instead of at school on Monday, instead of imagining bad things all day before he could ask me. And she is right. I am glad it was me.
But I wish I didn’t need to have the conversation. I wish those children were still alive. I wish those parents weren’t waking up to realize it wasn’t just a horrible nightmare. The reality is too much to bear, to accept, to even begin to comprehend.
For now, there is nothing I can do but support my children in their understanding — and grieve.
We grieve with Newtown, Connecticut — yesterday, today and in the hard, unimaginable days to come.