Yesterday, I was driving my children home from the dentist when I turned on the news radio station like the 34-year-old mother that I am. As I did that thing where you lick your teeth after leaving a teeth cleaning because they feel so weird and contemplate that you really should floss more, I grew increasingly more horrified at what I was hearing.
The Capitol has been breached. Gunshots have been fired. Reports of a woman bleeding. Congress members have been asked to put on gas masks and lay on the floor. Federal property is being destroyed and Trump supporters have broken windows to gain entry.
Over my freshly-smooth teeth, I inadvertently slowed down my minivan (obviously I drive a minivan) and turned up the radio. What was I hearing? What was happening? This, in the new year, in 2021, the year that was supposed to be a fresh start? I honestly couldn’t believe what I was hearing unfold live.
For nearly the entire hour-long drive home, I remained glued to the radio, my hands tightly gripping the steering wheel as dusk crept around us. I tried my best to keep the volume low, but several minutes in, I noticed my son’s head perched to the side. He was quietly listening, his tablet–a Christmas gift I was still unsure whether to love or hate–abandoned on his lap.
“Mom, what is going on?” my 8-year-old asked me. “Why are they breaking in? Who was shot?”
"Mom, what is going on?" my 8-year-old asked me. "Why are they breaking in? Who was shot?"
I looked back at my son, a child who has missed months of school, who took the disappointment of his beloved soccer being cancelled in stride, who has accepted every change and challenge thrown his way, a little boy who has already learned that there are some things we don’t talk about around certain adults, and I didn’t know what to say.
I simply don’t know how to explain any of this to my children anymore. And frankly, I almost don’t want to. Don’t they deserve a childhood not constantly ambushed by acts of violence and death counts and bad news? How can we expect them to endure all of this? At this point, it feels like it’s not fair to any of them to have to hear about the messes that the adults in the world have created.
Minutes later, I heard my son whispering to his six-year-old sister. “They broke glass everywhere, ” he said in hushed tones. “They are sending soldiers now.” His baby sister looked at him for a minute, taking in the news, then turned her attention back to her tablet.
But he kept listening.
And throughout all of this, hasn’t that been true? Try as we might, haven’t the children always been listening in the background? Picking up on the tension in the air, even as we do our best to try dissipate it and keep it light? At dinner that night, my husband insisted we not discuss the events of the day at the family table, but no one could hide that something was wrong. No one could change that the very air we breathed felt tinged with the tear gas that filled our nation’s Capital on what was supposed to be a sacred day.
We Won’t Forget
I did my best to shield my children yesterday and we ate dinner and read our books and said our prayers and went to bed. And this morning, I tried my best to yet again explain the unrest that was happening on our country in a way that the children could understand and in a way that wouldn’t scare them. I reminded them that someday, kids would read about everything they have experienced this year in their history books at school. I told them I was proud of them and that they should keep working hard at school to become people who could someday lead the country if they wanted.
I honestly don’t know if I’m doing the right thing anymore in discussing current events with my children. Does anyone? How in the world do you toe the line of being honest with them and not heaping adult-sized anxiety onto their innocent shoulders? It feels impossible.
But, I’m trying. And in trying to walk my children through it, I’m also learning how to cope myself. For instance, I took comfort in listening to the words of some political leaders who spoke on the events yesterday, like President Elect Joe Biden, who called for unity, and a Congresswoman who described on Michigan Radio this morning how, in the chambers that day, both Republicans and Democrats united as a community under a threat.
“There were no politics in that moment,” she said. She went on to add how she was disappointed in how some of her coworkers had ultimately voted later that night after what they had all witnessed, adding that while she would never forget, she would continue to work with them–because she had to, for the sake of democracy, for a cause bigger than all of them.
And for me, that’s the message that I’m taking to heart as I face explaining yesterday to my children and more importantly, continuing to raise them in an increasingly polarized world:
We will never forget what we have witnessed.
But we will move forward and we will find a way to work together.
Because we have to.
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