In the Wake of Boston: One Child’s Question

“Mumma, you’re never gonna die, right?”

Yesterday was the day after here in Boston. I heard someone on NPR describe it as a city-wide feeling of melancholy. To me, it feels like a pervasive quiet permeating the city – a quiet laced with an odd mix of determination, defiance and community layered atop deep, deep sadness. We are a city united not only by mourning, but also by our resolution to persevere against the evil that confronts us. And our country cries and fights with us.

“Mumma, you’re never gonna die, right?”

Monday, I did what almost everyone I know did. I left work early to find my loved ones. I picked K up from school, and I gave her a hug. I tried to pretend that disaster hadn’t just ripped through my adopted hometown. We played games. We role-played (I was K, and she was “mommy”). And we pretended to be Bat Girl and Wonder Woman fighting off bad guys. Just like every other evening.

“Mumma, you’re never gonna die, right?”

K isn’t yet four. But she’s asked me that question every couple of months for the past year. It started during a reading of Babar. Every reading of Babar. She would ask me repeatedly what happened to Babar’s mother. Coward that I am, I even put the book away for a month or two last summer because I couldn’t face the questions every night. I’ve told her that everyone dies. But that I wasn’t planning to die for a long, long, time. I haven’t heard the question in a little while.

“Mumma, you’re never gonna die, right?”

K’s been having a little separation anxiety over the past week or so, and parental handoffs have evoked tears for the first time in many months. She’s usually fine once I’ve left (out of sight, out of mind), but the water works have threatened quite a lot lately. It was no different Monday night. Monday was actually J’s evening with K, but given the pandemonium, he had to walk home. And I just wanted to hug my little girl and be with other people. So we all had dinner together at J’s house. The water works started when I got ready to leave but ended as soon as I was out the door.

“Mumma, you’re never gonna die, right?”

Last night during dinner, that’s what my daughter asked me. She had proclaimed to me that she didn’t cry *at all* when I left. I gently corrected her, but said that I had heard from Daddy that she had a lot of fun once I was gone. I also reminded her that even when I leave her that I will always be back for her. That’s when she asked the question.

To my knowledge, she knows very little, if anything, about what happened Monday. We’ve tried to keep her away from the news, and I doubt her teachers are talking about what’s happened in front of the kids.

I try not to lie to my kid. Oh there are things I don’t tell her for sure, but I rarely out-and-out lie. The one concession I’ve made is that every time one of us goes on a trip we remind K that “we always come back for K.” That one always sort of worries me. It feels like I’m inviting disaster. I’m making a promise I have no control over.

But to tell her that I’ll never die – well, death is a part of life. So I told her what I always do. Everyone dies. But I’m not planning to die for a long, long time.

She seemed appeased. For the moment.

But I’m struck with the realization that my little girl is growing up far too fast. And the explanations that can remain silent today because of her youth will have to be given (age appropriate) far sooner than I wish.

How do you explain evil to a little girl who thinks bad guys exist only to give superheroes someone to fight? Who thinks a bad guy can turn into a good guy just because she decrees it so? And how then do you help to make her feel safe again?

Because every little kid should know s/he has the power to save the world

Because every little kid should know s/he has the power to save the world

Everyone has been quoting Fred Rogers and how his mom told him to “look for the helpers.” And that’s a start. There are beacons of light within every tragedy. And while those beacons help to stave off the darkness of evil in the midst of man-made horror, we must remember that those same beacons exist in the brightness of day as well. They just shine that much more brightly when contrasted with shadows. Every day, there are moments of commonplace decency and moments of heroism and moments of extraordinary kindness that far outweigh the hate and mean-spirit and evil in the world. Of this, I have no doubt.

We need not wait for the bad to point out the good. Terror and evil win not because they are stronger, but because they are louder. But we have voices too. Let’s teach our children of all the good in humanity and demonstrate that that faith is not misplaced. And let’s shout it from the rooftops.

There is no room for evil here. We will not tolerate it. We will smother it with love, kindness and humanity until it has no oxygen to breathe. And we will win. Every. Single. Day.

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