"Since it is so likely children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage." - C.S. Lewis
I couldn't be more glad that it's finally May. This April really, truly was "the cruelest month," just like T.S. Eliot said, and I kept starting post after post here listing and lamenting all the small injustices of the wet, cold, cruel spring. Jason's car died and needed to be jumped, repeatedly, on the most monsoon-like day ever; every few days, big, fat snowflakes would blanket the lawn with white before turning to sloppy raindrops; one of the cats peed on Jemma's backpack and raincoat and I sent her to school without realizing what had happened; Annie's soccer practice schedule has been changed eleventy billion times due to weather/whims/seasons of the moon; family dinners have been few and far between; Jason's been working long days at the office and bringing work home each night; I fell while running and hurt my hand and leg; we ran out of things to do on what felt like the hundredth cold, rainy weekend; I wanted to get in bed with a stack of books and some simple carbohydrates and get out when it was June.
Eventually, of course, the spring actually came. Today it was 85 and sunny: doors open, turkey burgers on the grill, hula-hoops and bikes, pineapple mojitos, sitting outside amid the daffodils and sunshine to catch up on email. But just before the season changed, amidst all those petty annoyances, one other cruel thing happened that made me see my parenting in a whole new light.
Two weeks ago, two brothers set off bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. It's obviously not the first act of terrorism that's happened on American soil in my lifetime, and it's not even the first violent calamity of the last twelve months. On the anniversary of 9/11, I wrote about my thoughts on bringing children into this kind of world, and I stand by them, particularly:
In the aftermath of the attacks, I remember hearing the sentiment that this was a world (so dark, so evil) into which it might be foolish to bring children. I never agreed with that. I remember thinking that there was nothing new under the sun, that there would always be darkness and death and heartbreak but also love and triumph and goodness. It was never a question of bringing them into the world, but now that they are here, it is a question of how to tell them about the darkness. It is a question of how to explain the death. It is a question of how much to shield them from the heartbreak. It is a question of how to raise them to love, triumph, and contribute to the good.
And that's the question that I faced this past month, because this month was the first time Annie knew full well what had happened, and wanted to know why. It's not a milestone I was looking forward to. I tend to err on the side of cautious conservatism when it comes to what I want to expose my kids to, and when. We avoid commercials, the news, lots of movies and music and shows that I'm not eager to have influence their innocent little minds. I juuuuuuust finally pulled out the ol' "It's Not the Stork!" book after literally months of sidestepping pointed questions - not because I was embarrassed or wanted to hide information, but because I'm so aware that, once information is known, it can never be un-known.
We sat, folding laundry together up in her bedroom on the day after the Boston bombings, and she asked, "Why would someone want to make a bomb go off to hurt strangers?"
"I know, it's sad and confusing, isn't it?" I asked.
"Are the people bad who did it?" she wondered.
This was before we knew who did anything, so I told her that we didn't really know who, or why, or know how to understand this kind of thing ever, even as grown-ups. And somehow, even as I was talking to her, I had a strong sense that this was the important stuff of parenting, that the silly debates over millions of parenting decisions melt away when you're in the kind of conversation that has the potential to shape a person's worldview. So I ventured a little further, and said I thought that every human being has the potential for great good and great evil, and that people can change, and wondered what she thought about that, if she could think of any stories about people who had done bad things and then changed.
"Like . . . Zacchaeus?" she said.
"Yes! Like Zacchaeus. Do you remember what he did?"
She frowned at me. "Mom, I remember the story," she said pertly, then told it to me in its entirety, ending with " . . . and he gave back FOUR TIMES MORE than he had stolen!"
My Bible story memory is not what it once was, so I took her word for it, but I was mostly glad we'd had the conversation in spite of my selfish wish that she and her sister could be kept in the dark about evil, bombs, cancer, injustice, racism, poverty, and every single sad and horrible situation on this planet forever. That would be easier, more comfortable, less tricky for sure, but it would also never get at the question of "how to raise them to love, triumph, and contribute to the good."
So April of 2013, that cruel, cold month, ushered in a new phase of parenting for me. Since the door to the world has creaked open - the information, if you will, can't be unknown - it's reminded me that it's ultimately what our kids see us do in the face of the darkness that will teach them how to be the light.
I can wish that cancer didn't exist (and that my kids didn't know about it), but since that wish won't come true, I can let my kids see me run to raise money for their school principal who has been battling it this school year. I can wish that homelessness and hunger didn't exist in our community (and that my kids didn't know about it), but since that wish won't come true, I can be glad that the girls have seen their parents pull the car over to give away boxes of granola bars and jars of peanut butter at an intersection. I can wish that we didn't have to ask the community to help save crucial and dear programs like art and language and social workers at our schools, but since that wish won't come true, I can stand at a table at the library and knock on doors and write checks. I can wish that acts of terrorism and bombings never happened in our country (and that my kids didn't know about them), but since that wish can't come true, I can share stories about the bravery and courage of the responders and the helpers in those scenarios.
I know there's that lovely Fred Rogers quote about looking for the helpers, and I do like it, but I don't think it goes quite far enough. Forget just looking for the helpers. BE the helpers. And let your kids see you do it.