“Mommy, is the world going to end?” Laila asked on the way to school this week.
She is 7, brudda Eli 4, and their minds are churning, ears listening, all the time.
“H. Said that,” she said of one of her little friends.
Was H. referring to escalating tensions with N Korea? Some other apocalyptic prediction?
H. is quite strict about her religion.
“My God doesn’t let me celebrate birthdays or holidays,” she told Laila once, probably after giving Laila one in a stream of numerous gifts – a tiny purple painted bird house with a carefully fashioned cursive ‘L,’ Spanish baby books with simple words and pictures.
We were listening to NPR on our way to school.
“Ah, right. Sweetie, it’s not off the table, but unlikely North Korea is has the capability to fire a nuke that would hit us. World War 3 probably won’t start today. Just go to school and learn and mommy’ll let you know if something changes.”
Kids aren’t dumb. Laila has been asking about death, Syria, the police shooting scene we drive by once on the way to Saturday morning ballet, the police search choppers we hear, the homeless woman who lives in the doorway near her school, for years now. With rare exception I give it to her straight.
I only lied once, about the police shooting scene we drove by. She was really little then, 3 or 4.
“Oooh it must be a parade!” I lied. There were blinking lights and bright yellow tape.
Other than that I’ve been as honest as I can be.
It seems this world-ending talk is coursing through the playground.
A few nights later, Eli and I were hanging around. I was lying sideways on the bed and he was popping in and out of a wicker basket, chatting with me.
He popped up and slayed me out of nowhere with:
“Mommy, I’m worried about dying.”
Eli has a life-threatening illness. I wasn’t ready for this. I attempted to locate the source of his worry.
“What makes you feel that way, buddy?”
“I dunno,” he said. I probed more.
He finally mentioned A., Laila’s buddy, had on the playground been talking about dying, ala, “We’re all gonna die!”
“Do young people die?” Eli asked.
“Yes, sometimes they do,” I said.
He seemed to accept that.
“Everybody is born,” I added. “Everybody dies. So every day, we try our best to have a great day.”
That was the best I could do in that moment.
Later, I started googling ‘How to talk to kids about the news.’ One parent watched news with his kids at night.
“No way!” Mark said when I asked if we should do the same.
“You’re right,” I said. “Way too scary before bedtime.”
Another column I found advised putting off the topics, if they pop up at night, with a phrase like, “let’s talk about that in the morning.”
I agreed there. Be honest…just not right before bed.
It may not be the philosophy for everyone.
Almost all of my relatives are raising kids in posh suburban enclaves. They aren’t confronted with the issues plain as day in front of us – homelessness, mental illness, police choppers, and yes, even death.
Draws did drop when on a visit north, Laila blurted out: “I probably shouldn’t tell you this…But we think the house next door is selling drugs!”
Darling, did you not get the memo? Snitches get stitches (and snitches who are bitches wind up in ditches)?
We live in the same neighborhood in which Mark teaches. He broke up his first fight of the year last week. Kinda early for the 12-year-olds to start swinging. Just some srsly weak punches and chest locking, though, nothing serious. Some of his students’ parents have walked out of their lives; teachers have adopted them. Some students’ parents are imprisoned. Some of the children are in foster care and dream of a stable family. One child wished that, in adulthood, she could get just into jail to make a family there.
In poverty and through complicated and stressful lives, though, the children he teaches are often bright beacons of hope. The little guy whose dad and mom abandoned him is in high school, plays soccer and dreams of joining the Army.
Those children to me, are proof of a a young person’s resilience. We will keep listening to NPR on the way to school. I’ll keep answering Laila and Eli’s questions. I’d rather they get it from me than the playground rumor mill.
Tomorrow I anticipate questions about hate crime in Charlottesville.
As Walter Kronkite used to say, “That’s the way it is.”