Just like millions of Americans I too woke up to the tragic news out of Orlando Sunday morning. For right or wrong though I temporarily cast the news and associated emotions aside. There were balloons to pick up and party favors to assemble. I had work to do and the clock was ticking, loudly toward the early afternoon start time of my son’s 8th birthday party. Bravery now, grief later. This has become a tried and true strategy for me. It got me through 9/11. It saved my sanity when Newtown happened. And now I was calling on this mechanism again Sunday to deal with the Orlando shooting.
We decided to host a dozen or so boys at a bowling alley close to our house. The kids bowled before sitting down to pizza and cake surrounded by presents, balloons, laughter and giggles, the ingredients that should be present at every child’s birthday party.
I did not invite tears, fears, sadness or uncertainty but they showed up anyway, via the television in the bowling alley restaurant. Damn 24-hour news cycle. Damn constant coverage.
When the kids sat down for pizza the two TVs in the restaurant had the Cubs game on. But that soon ended and WGN went right back to continuing coverage. There it was, “Orlando Nightclub Shooting, 49 killed, over 50 injured” in a font size large enough for a table of 12 rising third graders to read even from over 20 feet away.
Which they did. Even while the Cubs were putting the finishing touches on a 13-2 blowout of the Braves a couple of the kids were saying, “I saw on the news there was a shooting at a nightclub last night.” “A shooting!” a few replied, emphasis on the word, shooting.
I marched right up the counter and requested that the station be turned immediately. The restaurant manager took care of one TV and he gave me the remote to the other so before we knew it, golf and another baseball game were on. But the damage was already done.
Look, I know horrible tragedies interrupt and interfere with the business of celebrating life. I personally know people with birthdays and wedding anniversaries on 9/11. Now June 12 joins that list of ominous dates, like 9/11, 12/14, and 7/20 among other dates I don’t have the heart to mention.
So yes, the Orlando shooting crashed my son’s birthday party. Still, this has nothing to do with my wish to preserve some idyllic image I had for my son’s birthday, a party 3 years in the making thanks to our moves. Simply put, I didn’t think it was a good idea for them to talk about this without their parents around. We all parent differently and our kids are all different in terms of personality, temperament and emotional maturity and the words I may use to help calm or reassure my child may not be best for other children, especially children I hardly know, which I don’t aside from a handful of innings on the baseball field or glimpses at the second grade music assembly or lunchtime program I volunteered at maybe two hours a month.
Aside from the content and graphic nature of what was on the news, I know the first language of the 8-year old creature is exaggeration. They make everything into larger than life events, usually as a way to get attention, especially in a group.
Realizing this, I knew I had to address the Orlando shooting with my son. He is not a little kid anymore. We say mom and dad instead of mommy and daddy. I use the same tone of voice with him that I use with other adults instead of the kinder, gentler mom-ese I use with his toddler sister. He should take an interest in his world and with his mastery of every electronic device, whether it is TV remove, tablet, or iPad, he has instant access to the events in that world, good and bad.
Remember, bravery now, grief later. So that night after little sister went to bed and the house was all calm and quiet I asked him if he paid attention to what his friends saw on TV at the party, about the Orlando shooting. He said he wasn’t listening. I believe that. These days, he pretty much shuts out anything that doesn’t have to do with baseball so I interpreted that as he wasn’t interested in current events.
Taking that cue, I told him if he wanted to watch the news to let me know and we can watch together and I can answer any questions he has about what he sees. I also said his 8-year old friends might not be the best sources of information. Remember, exaggeration.
I left it at that. Now, there is incredible uncertainty in the world and events like this make that very clear but one thing I am certain of is the internet will judge. Why did I not use this as a teachable moment to show my son that love conquers hate, why didn’t I have him watch the reportedly 8 hour long line in Orlando to donate blood to help the victims not to mention all of the other “helpers”, why am I not using this tragedy to explain that LGBT are more than 4 letters strewn together.
Yes, these things are important but to be perfectly honest, I am not one to use these events as crash courses in concepts he will learn in the natural course in time, when he is ready and willing to pay attention and have the maturity to understand the gravity of it all.
By his response Sunday night, he is not there yet. It’s great if your child is. But mine is not and that is totally okay too.
For now all I can do is get the words ready to help him understand. Sadly, something like this probably will happen again but he will grow in that space between now and them, growing more capable and curious all the while. When he is ready to understand, I will be there for him.
Not long ago I wrote about my son and how second grade is the last of the little kid years. Sunday I saw another piece of my son’s innocence slip away. Add that to the Pulse casualty list.
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