Surveillance video of Pulse nightclub shooting released
My 10-Year-Old's Response to the Orlando Tragedy Was Beautiful and Heartbreaking
The night before the Orlando shootings, my 9- and 10-year-old daughters were celebrating the beginning of hot summer nights by dragging me out to the local ramen place they love. While there, they made friends with the most adorable preschooler who had been sitting across us. Despite their age differences, they bonded over rainbows and twirling to make your skirt spin and a love of udon noodles.
And then we waved good-bye as their new little friend skipped out the door, holding hands with her two dads. The only observation my kids made was that they liked her haircut.
For children, each one born without the crushing influence of cultural norms and prejudices, love is arguably the world's easiest concept to understand. Any kind of love.
I remember explaining to my girls years ago in the most basic terms, that some women love men — like I do — and some women love other women and some men love other men, then pointed to adults in our lives as examples.
"OK," they shrugged, and went back to building LEGO fortresses or having tea parties.
What's been inordinately harder for me as a parent through the years is explaining hate.
And yet Sunday morning, I found myself for what felt like the zillionth freaking time, needing to describe why Mom was crying at her computer. Would it be easier today? Only because it wasn't the first time.
That dubious honor goes to the Sandy Hook shooting. My children were in first and third grades when 20 children around their own ages were executed in their elementary school. I cannot forget the nearly impossible task of collecting myself, and trying to describe as calmly and in as plain terms as possible what had happened.
I could only hold my tears until my oldest, then 8, looked up at me unblinkingly, like a little Whoville Who, and asked, "But … why?"
The "why" gets me every time. Is there ever a good answer? One they can comprehend?
Later it was the Charleston church. The Aurora theater. The Lafayette theater. The clinic in Colorado Springs. Boston. San Bernadino. Brussels. Paris. Beirut.
And so it was with the horrific Orlando Pulse Nightclub shooting, Sunday morning.
My website's readers have asked (all too frequently) for tips on how to talk to children about tragedies like mass shootings, and so we've provided plenty of advice and resources that have helped me with my own kids too.
First, figure out what your children are ready to hear based on their age and maturity; you know your own child best. Consider asking them questions first, or starting the conversation with, "What do you know?" When they do ask, don't be afraid to look up the answers or to say, "I just don't know." Know that it's OK for them to see you cry; demonstrating emotion in response to human tragedy does not mean you are not also strong. Seek out resources like the National Child Traumatic Stress Network if your child is having extreme difficulty processing the information. And most important, reassure your children that they are safe right now, that a lot of people are out there fighting to make sure these situations become more rare, and that you personally will do everything in your power to make sure they stay safe — that is our no. 1 job as parents.
After we talk, I always ask my kids what they want to do to help. I find it gives them some degree of empowerment and control that they need. So after Sandy Hook, my daughters (along with thousands of other kids) sent off paper snowflakes. After other global tragedies, they held bake sales with friends to raise money for relief organizations.
This time, we made a GoFundMe donation to the Pulse Victims Fund. Then, I asked my girls to help me find some artwork I could post on Instagram, specifically a broken rainbow heart.
("Yes, we know what a rainbow heart means. It means pride and that you can love anyone … duh, Mom.")
Wouldn't you know it — we could find none. Maybe that's a good thing?
And so my oldest daughter, Thalia, who usually prefers drawing anime renditions of her friends, volunteered to draw a broken rainbow heart for me.
It turned out perfect in its imperfections, all fat and puffy, with vividly colorful crayon stripes in stark contrast to the single black crack she drew down the center. It was both hopeful and heartbreaking.
Now admittedly, when I gave birth, I acquired that universal parental perception that every single one of our own children's art projects are each exquisite masterpieces, created by gifted hands and destined for hanging on the walls of The Met. I accept my bias. Which is why I never imagined, after uploading it toInstagramand my Facebook page, just how many individuals her drawing would touch.
It was a small gesture of hope, unity, healing — quite literally the least we could do in response. And yet I was seeing likes and comments and tweets from people around the globe — Europe, South America, Australia, Asia, the Middle East. People whose names I can't pronounce, often in languages I can't identify.
The outpouring of love I've seen in just 24 hours has given me even more hope, as I wrote on my original post, that our kids will do a far better job creating a world that respects all lives, all love.
"I think kids should know more about this issue," Thalia said, "because then we can make things better than how our parents did."
Then she added with a smile, "No offense, Mom."
"No problem," I told her.
Video: Police bodycam footage from the Pulse nightclub shooting
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