Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Honesty and "God's Work"

I do not believe in baby talk.  I also do not believe in not using big words because my children won't understand them.  I have always talked to my children like they are people, and I do my best to answer their questions honestly while also considering their emotional and cognitive levels.  These are some of the reasons it took me a few tries to figure out how to answer the "how are babies made?" questions when my kids asked.  The tried and true answer of "when a mommy and daddy love each other very much..." doesn't cut it anymore.  It's not honest, and I don't ever want my children to judge themselves or someone else because they don't quite fit that standard reply.  It does take a man and a woman to make a baby, but families come in all shapes and sizes, and babies enter those families in many different ways.

These are just some of the questions I struggle to answer because I want to be honest with my children.  I want them to feel comfortable asking me about difficult topics, and I want them to know I will do my best to tell them the truth.  They deserve to understand the world they live in and to work to make it a better place.

In the last few days I have seen parents struggle with whether to tell their young children about the school shootings.  I note their fears:  the kids are too young; the parents don't want to take away their innocence; the kids might be afraid to go to school.  All of these fears are valid, but I wonder about the children in Connecticut and the parents who did not have a choice in these matters.  Do I think that our young children should be watching TV and the coverage of the shootings?  Absolutely not.  Do I think they should know that it happened?  Yes, in an age appropriate way.

We talked to our children Sunday night about a "tragedy" (we defined the word for them) that had happened in a different state.  We told them that children died, though we did not tell them that it happened at school.  They had questions.  We answered them honestly, yet appropriately, and then we decided to add these families to our prayers.   The conversation shifted easily, and later we asked them to tell us about fire drills at their school.  They excitedly explained them, as well as the "lockdown" drills, which they detailed as a "high" or "low" lockdown.  My daughter asked, "what if there is a real fire at school?"  To which I responded, "If anything like a real fire or emergency happens at school, Daddy and I will come to get you as soon as we can."

We had this conversation for a couple of reasons.  First, our school district sent a message to parents suggesting ways we could discuss the event with our children.  We knew that other children, particularly older children, would know what had happened, and we didn't want our kids to be confused.  We wanted them to know that something happened away from them.  We also wanted them to feel comfortable talking about it with us if they did hear something that confused them.  And finally, I felt they had a right to know.  Yes, they are children, but they are smarter and stronger than we give them credit for.  They have compassion for others, and they know how to send love through prayer.

I have seen parents struggling with the fact that other children have been talking about the shootings at school and on the bus.  "Why don't their parents tell them not to talk about it?" some have asked.  But they should talk about it.  They should process it, just as adults have been processing it with each other.  We called our loved ones.  We texted our friends.  We watched with unknown others.  Kids deserve the same chance to process, and I know that they need to, that they will, and that somewhere in that mix, my children will hear them.  It was not a difficult decision for me to make to tell my children that something bad had happened. I did not struggle.

However, in these last few days I have been struggling with other dialogue about the tragedy.  Some responses paint the teachers in Connecticut as heroes, which they certainly were (and are).  What frustrates me is that recent public discourse about education and teachers has made it seem unlikely that teachers could possibly be heroes.  Of course, these women were heroes.  It's what teachers do - love, protect, and nurture kids.  Somehow tied to, yet apart from, this discussion of heroes are statements that  indicate "God" is absent from schools.  Though Mike Huckabee made headlines with his comments, the sentiment is echoed by many.  I cannot articulate any better my feelings on this subject than did Kimberly Burkett, who posted an open letter to Mike Huckabee.  Teachers are heroes, and the values at the core of every religion, which center on compassion and love, are present in the work that they do.  Every day.

Teachers are heroes, and children are people.  They should be treated fairly.  They should be protected.  They should be respected, and they should be loved.  Above all, they should be trusted to do "God's work" because they are some of the most capable ones at getting it done.

My feelings here in no way overshadow the sorrow I feel for the people of Newtown.  My heart broke again when I learned that Noah Pozner, the youngest victim, was a twin.  His sister Arielle survived.  Though I grieve for all of the families who lost loved ones, I feel deeply for Noah's parents and his sister.  To lose a child is unthinkable.  To help a twin deal with the loss of her brother is double heartbreaking.  Arielle will feel this loss like no one else can.  Twin moms around the country are hoping to honor Noah by planting a tree, and perhaps my kids and I will plant a tree of our own to honor all of the heroes and children in Newtown and in our lives.


Friday, December 14, 2012

Impossible Grief

It is impossible not to see myself in the tragedy. I remember clearly the day of the Columbine shootings. I learned of it while I was on the treadmill at the gym after school. Though I hate to run, I stayed on the machine an extra 20 minutes, transfixed, watching the scene unfold on the overhead TV. I rushed home to sit on the couch and stare at the news. I didn't grade papers. I didn't plan lessons. I could not think, unable to comprehend what had happened. I saw myself, a teacher, in that tragedy, and I grieved. What if that happened at my school? What if a gunman came into my classroom? What if?

Today started according to plan. I put the kids on the bus. I cleaned my office, which was in desperate need of a paper sweep and swiffer dust. I met my colleagues in a Google Hangout where we outlined a book. I created a budget for a grant application. And then, just as I was turning to the proposal narrative, I clicked the Facebook tab. One friend had commented about the school shooting. Just below that post another friend said she had cried as she read the story. No one else had commented. So I googled it - and I was done for the day.

My work files hung open on my computer as I took in the story, watched lived coverage, and eventually turned on the TV. As the story unfolded, it hit closer to home. Connecticut. Small, suburban town. Perceptively safe community. Kindergarten class.

It was not my grief to feel, but it was impossible not to see myself, a parent, in it. I have two children in the same kindergarten class. What if that had been my town? What if I couldn't find them at the firehouse? What if...

It was not my grief to feel, but it was impossible not to feel it.

There is so much I could say about the media's coverage of this event. A young man was accused publicly when he had nothing to do with the event. The story changed significantly from hour to hour. Reporters raced to file "facts" yet police refused to confirm. So the news teams speculated...who, what, when, and even where. And we watched. I watched. Unable to comprehend, and swimming in "what if."

Perhaps we can learn something, something more than school security or gun control, by examining the coverage of the aftermath. Perhaps in that mess lies the real problem. Perhaps change begins there.


It is not our grief to feel, but we feel it.

NJ Strong, along with other Sandy relief teams, has opened their hearts to Connecticut. If you would like to donate, please follow this link.