Monday, April 22, 2013

Love that Dirty Water

We live about forty minutes outside Boston, and were relieved to find that none of our friends or their families were wounded in last Monday's bombing. Okay, that's an understatement. Still, watching the news this week was different in our house than watching past tragedies for one reason: our daughters watched the news with us.

Sandy Hook was just a few months ago, and neither of our kids wanted to know what was going on. At six weeks shy of age ten, they were scared and what little they did see and hear gave them a few nights of bad dreams. This week, they wanted to watch. They asked questions. They evaluated the actions of the police as well as the news crews. It mattered. I try to follow their lead, especially when scary stuff is involved, so I let them watch. As they went up to bed Friday evening they called down, "Come up and tell us what happens. Tell us when they get him out of the boat." Then they both commented that they hoped nobody else got hurt.

All week I wondered if they'd have nightmares, but they didn't. What made the difference? I don't know. What I do know is that at some point, our children begin paying attention to the world around them. One day, a terrible event on the evening news is something they want--and need--to follow. For Dan, it was the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (he was ten). For me, it was the 1982 crash of Air Florida flight 90 (I was eleven). The world becomes simultaneously bigger and smaller not just because of the tragedy but also because for the first time, we want to understand.

The evening of the marathon, my mom called to talk about the bombing. I told her we'd been at a friend's house when the news broke and in the car when our friend texted to say there had been fatalities. When I'm driving I toss the phone into the back seat and have the girls read and respond to any texts, so we found out together. My mom wanted me to talk to Pen and Em about the importance of not attending events that could draw out disturbed people, but I couldn't let her continue. I said, "Mom, that's the exact opposite of what I want them to learn."

Embracing life and each other.
What Dan and I tell our daughters is that the goal of terrorism is to incite terror. It's right there in the name. We tell them that when something horrible happens, it's okay to be scared. It's okay to cry. People who are sick, who take pleasure in hurting others, are out there. They're not going away, and they're not going to play by the same rules the rest of us use. But don't let those people stop you from doing the things you love. Don't give up on your dreams, or walk away from your passions, because of what they do. In fact, don't let any of the scary things that happen stop you from embracing life. It's one thing to say it, and a harder thing to live it, but living is the most important part.

Devastating events rock us all in some way, even when they're far-removed, but our reactions shape our futures as much as they are shaped by our past experiences. If your tween hasn't already poked his head up and noticed the world around him, he will eventually. Someday, something horrible and scary on the television will matter. He'll need to watch and understand. Because as we grow up, one by one we wake up, look around, and have to decide what we think and how we'll react.

After Emma's surgery a few summers ago--once we had the house to ourselves again and a few days to breathe--we looked around. We had one daughter who'd just had her life irrevocably altered and another who'd been scared she would lose her sister and best friend. Dan and I had reeled through the days feeling like marionettes in a windstorm. Vacation was out. So was summer camp. Normal kid activities like biking and skating and horsing around were off limits while she recuperated. But Emma needed to feel like a kid again. She needed to know that she was okay and the things that made her life, life weren't gone. So we threw a Harry Potter Film Festival.

Every night for the week before Deathly Hallows Part Two opened, we showed the first seven movies in order, one film each night. We invited all our local friends. We made Knickerbocker Glories and put out dishes of lemon drops, licorice snaps, and Every Flavor Beans (with a spittoon). One family brought butterbeer. Penelope and Emma came with us to see the last film in the theater. It was exactly what Emma needed to feel normal again, which means it was exactly what our whole family needed.

What are we doing this time? Dan and I are getting our enormous butts off the couch so all four of us can take part in the Harbor Walk and Run. This fundraiser benefits the hospital where our daughters were born and which has saved Emma twice. Two sick men blew up people in Boston, so we're heading in. Boston, you're our home.


  1. Walk away! That hometown is one of the most beautiful cities I know, dirty water included.

    Wonderful post. Thanks for sharing. (((hugs)))

    1. Thank you, S.D. I'm glad my kids get to call Boston their birthplace. The older they get, the more often we drive in.