Leaving the Window Open

It may be because my kids are young (almost 5 and almost 3) that this feels like a relatively easy issue for me.  With respect to Tralee Pearce’s article, I feel no real compulsion to expose them to upsetting news at this time.  They can’t do much with the information – including process it well – so the news would likely to scare and sadden them without benefit.

My censored approach to what the children receive at this young stage is deliberate.  We don’t watch TV or have cable (just an antiquated box for the for the occasional video).  Radio commentary is sometimes on, but intentionally, so the kids don’t hear much scary stuff from that source either.  My husband and I don’t discuss difficult world affairs in front of the kids.

I believe in and try to implement a simple parenting approach, seeking to enrich childhood with the things we consider most valuable, in part by losing the distractions and complications that interfere with our fundamental goals.  In the book called Simplicity Parenting, author  Kim John Payne discusses the stress and overload that children experience when they are given too much, be it things or scheduling or adult worry and information.  I agree with this, but I didn’t have to read it to feel its truth intuitively.  I’m all for an informed and involved citizenry, and I wouldn’t shelter my children from world tragedy forever even if it were possible.  But for me, young childhood is not the right time for this transition.

My decisions are made easier to some degree because my older son seems to have an overtly sensitive temperament.  He’s the (only) kindergartener in the theatre who cried with fear at the ghost story scene of A Year With Frog and Toad, who didn’t want to watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas video at school, who will refuse to read books (that I’ve already tried to filter) because of a depiction of someone or something unkind (and it doesn’t matter if there’s a happy ending).  It’s clear to me that certain things are just harder for him to absorb because he feels them more deeply.

It’s true that I sometimes gently try to expand my son’s tolerances, but for the most part I respect my son’s boundaries.  It’s not coddling; it’s not preventing him from being able to operate in society.  It’s respect – that there is a time and place for everything.  I’m motivated partly because I was a ‘sensitive’ child too (and not especially respected for it), partly because my love for him outweighs any social expectation of (boy) children, and partly because I think the world would be a distinctly better place if we all had weaker abilities to adapt to what ugliness we find there.

My son has had a little exposure to the news of Japan in school and all appears well.  When I baked brownies to help fundraise, we talked about why in terms like this:  There is a place called Japan, far away from here.  They had a very bad storm, and some people’s homes were damaged and they lost their things.  We’re baking to make money to give to those people, to help them buy food and other things so they can feel better.

I also like this blog post, where a fellow blogger discussed the topic of Japan through crafting, giving her children something tangible and positive to do along with recieving the news.

Nathalie’s post from earlier this week about her immobilizing fear of the Yorkshire Ripper also gave me pause.  I have no comparable memory of an external fear like that.  But when I was two years old, my father passed away and it’s not an exaggeration to say that the legacy of this event coloured my entire childhood.  The sadness of our home, the weight of his passing, was everywhere.

There are myriad ways to injure a childhood, and many of them are well beyond our control, whether they happen halfway across the world or in our own backyards.  For the few things within our grasp, I gratefully take the opportunity to protect the sanctity of childhood’s small window.  It will close soon enough.


Sometimes I need to tell a fib.

“. . . and then a giant waterfall came and washed away all of the buildings and the cars and the people.  After that, the bad people with their guns were taken away and put in jail.”

My husband and I exchange a quizzical look.

“Did you talk about the earthquake in Japan at school today?” he asks our 4 year-old son.


“And did you talk about a place called Libya too?”


With that he bounds up from the table to take his dirty dishes to the counter.  We determined that inside his little head a million neurons were firing this way and that tangling together the horrific tsunami that washed over Japan and the crisis in Libya.

Who can blame him, really?  I have got twenty-five years on him and I can’t keep the chaos of the world straight.

So here we are, my husband and I, at a crossroads of sorts.  Do we sit down with our son and explain to him that he is confusing two events?  Do we further the discussion that he had at school and answer any questions he may have?  Or do we just follow his cue and take our own dirty dishes to the counter and move on?

When reading Tralee Pearce’s article, I was transported to the early 1990’s.  Images from the Gulf War flashed across the T.V. screen in our family room each night and early morning “current events” discussions at school were dominated by the anatomy of gas masks, sand storms, AK-47s and of course, Saddam Hussein.

The Gulf War was my first exposure to war.  Up to then I had only read stories about the World Wars and listened attentively to the veterans who visited our school auditorium.  But seeing the images of missiles light up the Baghdad sky terrified me.

At night my stomach would be in knots and lying on my bed, staring at the dark ceiling, I would think about the possibility of our own country under attack.  In true child-form, everything that I knew about war muddied together in my head and the result was petrifying.

Atomic bombs might fall on us – just like in Sadako and The Thousand Paper Cranes.   My parents, brother and I might have to live in a small shelter and wait to be rescued – just like Ann Frank.  Maybe we won’t have any food and have to grow our own – just like my grandparents had to do.

While I was much older than my son is today during the Gulf War, I don’t want him to experience the same level of anxiety as I did.  I want to be there for him and to reassure him that he is safe, even when the world seems like it is falling to pieces.

Tralee Pearce’s article suggests that we use “corrective feedback” and keep images of traumatic events to a minimum.  There is no doubt that images can leave lasting impressions – in some cases more so than words.

I still remember a photograph of Karla Homolka splayed across the front page of the newspaper when I was just twelve years old.  Her penetrating brown eyes stared coldly at the camera telling me that she was no innocent and to do this day I can’t view images from 9/11 without getting goose bumps and feeling queasy.

As I tuck my son in for bed, I lie down beside him and ask again about his day.  He retells the story of the giant waterfall that washed away lots of homes.  He turns on his side and rests his head on his hand.  He looks intently at me.  His blue eyes the mirror of my own.

“Will a giant waterfall wash away our house?” he asks.

“Nope.  Not ever.  We don’t live near the ocean.” I answer him.

“Will our house ever shake a lot and the walls fall down?”

This is it.  I am back at the crossroads.  I can tell him the truth.  That there is a possibility of our home being shook to pieces by the force of the earth.  After all, there was a quake that measured 5.0 on June 23 of this past year.

Or I can tell a fib.  But it’s not really a fib.  It’s just like when I tell him that Santa is watching and that the Tooth Fairy loves clean teeth.  It’s a way to preserve his innocence a little bit longer.  It’s the type of fib that I wish I could tell myself now and then.

“Nope.  Not ever.  We’re safe here.” I tell him with conviction and kiss him goodnight.

photo credit: http://www.childrens-bed.com