Talk to the kids? Pop the bubble?

15 Dec

Today, it does feel strange to blog about something as trivial as preparing our kids for kindergarten…There is no way to discuss that, as NONE of us were prepared for the day some kindergarteners had yesterday in Connecticut.

The parents of the kids at Sandy Hook Elementary school had no way of preparing themselves or their kids for this. It is an incredible tragedy that has taken over all of our minds—especially parents and teachers.

My husband and I were faced with the same decision as many of you: to tell our children or not to tell our children of this unspeakable event? Do we keep them in their bubble only to have it burst when they hear an older child or a peer with an older sibling talk about it outside of our earshot? Do we hide the news from them? Do we tell them all the gory details or water it down? What do we do?!?!

I was instantly brought back to when I was teaching second grade that fateful September 2001. Keep in mind I was in Northern California—3 hours behind the East Coast. Parents knew.  Most adults were in shock, some were crying, and almost none had told their young children. They dropped them off with us, went home to watch the news and cry. We were left to “act normal” and stay away from news unless we could escape to the teachers’ room to watch the television someone had turned on. It was the hardest day of my career as a teacher. Most teachers would probably agree with that, or they would have until yesterday.

Back then, our principal’s instructions were to act as if life had not changed. We were all instructed to be present at recess and lunch, and to be vigilant about eavesdropping on kids’ conversations. We were to keep the classroom safe and happy. Of course, we were to address any issues we overheard.  No lesson plan, no contrived discussions. Our students were young and many parents did not want to cause them unnecessary stress and anxiety. We were to see what our students and parents needed from us.

Those were the days before I was a mother. It was so difficult to act normal. So hard to smile and ignore how this one day had and would change the rest of our lives. But for my class of second graders, it didn’t change their lives.  It was my job to see that it didn’t.  Part of me resented this. When could I grieve? When could I watch the news and cry my eyes out?

BUT NOW, ten years later, I GET IT!

My husband and I discussed how we didn’t want to scare our kids. One of our daughters would surely not sleep for weeks if we told all details. But then we thought some more. What if she went to school and heard misinformation over which we had no control? What if that scared her more than the facts we did not tell her? What if she did not feel safe coming to us because we pretended it did not happen?

We decided to tell the basic facts to our two older daughters—ages 8 and 6 and 1/2. A man who was very sick in his mind went to a school and hurt a lot of people. It was awful and sad and scary. There are many people who are safe now because of the teachers and others who did so much to keep them safe. We assured them they are safe at their school and that things like this are so rare. It won’t happen to them, we said.  In saying that, we were assuring ourselves more than them. We told them if they have ANY questions to talk to us, or their teachers.

How did it go? My middle daughter asked if he got everyone else sick. They asked where he is now. We said he is dead and can no longer hurt anyone else. And with that, the girls went back to their art project.

I don’t know what will happen when they go back to school and are with other kids. My hope is that they are too young to discuss current events, or that enough time will have passed since Friday and it won’t be a hot topic. I am hoping their school is on the same wavelengths as my own former principal.

Most of all, I am hoping I can keep my girls in this news-free bubble for a little while longer. Actually, I am hoping I can keep them in this bubble of safety and happiness forever. If anyone has ideas how to make that work, please let me know.

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