Keep Lying- December 3, 2015
I just wanted to have The Ellen Show on TV Wednesday afternoon while I cleaned and got things done. Ellen is awesome. She’s doing that Christmas giveaway thing and audience members lose their minds. It’s funny.
No Ellen. “Breaking news.” “Mass shooting in San Bernardino, California.” “Multiple fatalities.” That familiar wave of horror went through me and settled in my chest. I watched for a moment before going upstairs for something. The kids were upstairs in their rooms. My 2-year-old son was waking from a nap and my 5-year-old daughter was playing. When I came back downstairs she was there, standing in front of the TV. She eyed it. I watched the question I expected come to her lips. “Mommy, what happened?”
“Some people got hurt,” I explained.
I turned it off. We hurried out the door for dinner at church where she happily sang with the preschool choir. Adults said prayers for southern California as our phones buzzed here on the east coast with updates. “Searches for suspects.” “Standoff with police.” It all continued to unfold on the other side of the country as our evening went on.
In the car on the way home a news update came on the radio at the half hour with the latest from San Bernardino. I hear from the back seat, “Mama. Am I going to get shooted by a gun?”
Her question pushed on my chest. The weight of it stalled my breath. The worst image any parent can have came to mind. I said, “No baby. You won’t be shot by a gun. Why do you ask that?” I knew why she had asked. She said, “It was on the news on TV.” I assured her it was okay and that it happened far away. She said, “Well, are you and Daddy going to be shot by a gun?” I promised we wouldn’t.
I changed the subject and mulled over my answers to her as we brushed teeth and got in bed. As I tucked her in I gave her the whole Mr. Rodgers speech. The “look for the helpers” quote.
I lied to my 5-year-old. I lied to her. We are lying to our children when we say “No, baby. You’re safe. You won’t be shot by a gun.” It’s a lie because they could be. As we’ve learned in the past decade any of us can be shot at a mall, movie theater, university, elementary school, church, medical clinic, holiday office party… I can’t even remember all of them now. Who can? This Washington Post article explains that on the 336th day of 2015, San Bernardino marked the 355th US shooting. Oh, and it was the second one on Wednesday. There was another in one of my favorite US cities, Savannah, Georgia.
In my mind I’ve played out scenarios of what I would do if I was at Target, the park or the grocery store with the kids. Hide or flee? It depends on where we were. Would the kids know to be quiet if we had to hide? How fast can I run with both of them? Let me be clear, I’m not a paranoid person. I don’t live in fear day-to-day. I just keep it in the back of my mind. My child does not show signs of any anxiety or excessive worry at this point. She’s only five, though.
We cannot honestly tell our children they are safe. Even quoting Mr. Rogers isn’t that comforting. My daughter asked who the helpers were. I explained that police officers and EMT rush to help people when they’re hurt. But, wait. What about children in communities with strained relations with law enforcement? Would a black child in Ferguson, Missouri see a police officer as a “helper?” What do their parents tell them?
Maybe all we can do as parents is lie. We can keep telling kids it will all be okay when we really don’t know if it will be. We can just keep lying.