It would be an understatement to say that the events in Tucson this past Saturday shocked me, left me numb and reeling. I mean, who's not feeling at least some of that? This post isn't really about what happened last weekend. Alone with my two young children, adult conversation about this tragedy has been sparse, and, by the way, how does one speak of it with a 3 and 5 year old? (That page in my parenting manual seems to be missing.) So I haven't.
That is, I didn't until my son came home from Kindergarten on Monday. He seemed mopey and sad, didn't feel well and wanted to lay down. He fell asleep early and didn't wake until the next morning. When I asked him how he was doing, here's what he had to say:
Mommy, I don't want to go to the grocery store. Did you know that a very bad and crazy, crazy bad man went into a grocery store and had a gun and shot and killed a lot lot lot of people?
Yes, I did know about that. It was on the news this weekend, but it happened far away from where we are and the police caught the man that did it. Where did you hear about it?
At school. My teacher told us that happened.
Oh. Did some kids in your class ask some questions about it? Was someone afraid?
No. My teacher was sad and she told us that it happened.
Oh. Well you don't have to go to the grocery store. And you shouldn't worry about a bad, crazy man with a gun. The police caught him and he's in jail.
First of all, yes, shame on me for not preparing him before he went to school on Monday. I should have talked to him about it, knowing that a classmate might have overheard adult conversations or caught snippets of the news, that something would be mentioned. I should have sent him to school with reassurances that no matter what he heard, we are safe. I should have told him that, whether or not I can really promise him that he's safe, whether or not I believe it myself.
But what is the right amount to say, when something like this happens? What image does my 5 year old hold in his head of a mass murder scene that was described to him? And just how much of that picture can he handle? How do I know it won't happen at our grocery store? How do I explain that it was planned to hurt an elected official (meaning, no one would hurt ordinary people like us) because someone was unhappy with the decisions she'd made, when he knows his aunt is an elected official, and ordinary people were hurt? How do I tell him something like this will never happen to us or people we love, so that he doesn't fall into a crying heap and beg me not the leave the house the next time we need milk and bread?
Like I mentioned, I just can't find that page of my parenting manual.