Being Lovers, Parents, and Partners in the Face of a Tragic Event
by Gladys Diaz
This past weekend was a difficult one for everyone in our country, and perhaps even more so for those of us who have children. I found out about the tragedy in Connecticut late in the day, and it threw me for a swirl of emotions. I simply couldn’t believe it and could not even begin to understand it. My mind kept going between the poor babies whose lives were taken, those whose innocence was stolen by what they experienced and saw, the educators who risked it all to protect the children, and trying to imagine what the parents of the children who were killed were going through.
When my husband came home, he could see that I was upset and I told him what had happened. Immediately, we were both overcome with emotion – me in my way: tears, and he in his: silence. Our next thought was how we were going to deal with this regarding our children. How in the world were we supposed to explain something neither one of us could fathom or make sense of? And, how were we supposed to relay something so heinous to child, while, at the same time, not trying to frighten or worry them? And how were we to deal with the questions… I know my kids – especially my older son. There would be questions, and lots of them.
We decided that we would not tell them about it and we would refrain from watching the news while they were awake. In a way, we felt like we were protecting them – preserving their innocence – at least for a little while longer. At that point there were so many unverified accounts of what happened that it was best to just wait, anyway. And maybe wouldn’t say anything at all. We didn’t know. What is “the right thing to do” with something that is so wrong?
We were able to avoid discussing the topic with them all weekend and limited our own discussions about the topic. It wasn’t easy. Every time I saw a picture of a child who passed away and the family photos capturing moments of pure love and joy, or read the stories of the teachers who risked their lives to save the little ones entrusted to them, I simply lost it. And as much as I like to consider myself someone who is a positive thinker and believes in the inherent goodness of people, I struggled with anger and found it hard not to want to blame somebody – anybody – for what was happening. A lot of that was going around on the social media networks – finger-pointing, blame, hate — and I just chose not to get involved in the political aspects of the tragedy. I wanted to send my love and healing thoughts with each picture, tear, and story I read, so I chose to focus on that instead.
On Sunday morning, it occurred to me that, while my younger son is in Kindergarten (and, yes, I had to shake the terror I felt each time I realized that the babies who were killed were his age), and that perhaps many of their parents had also shielded his classmates from the news, my older son is in fourth grade, and some of the kids in his class might have more access to the television and Internet than my kids do. I asked my husband whether he thought we should tell the kids what happened, sans all the details. We agreed to think about it and we’d decide that evening. The truth is that neither one of us wanted to be the one to start the discussion.
When evening finally came, I asked my husband again what he thought. He said he was worried, especially about our older son, who also has a mild form of autism and can get very upset and perseverate on a topic for days. He asked me how I felt about it. I told him I didn’t want to tell them everything, but that I also didn’t want them to hear something from another kid who might not have all of the details correct.
So we chose to speak to our kids about what happened. They both had questions – about where Connecticut was, what happened to the bad guy, whether some of the kids were able to escape – and we answered them as best we could. We kept the answers simple, and, when we didn’t know the answers, we said so.
Our older son’s first question was, “Are the kids okay?”
(My husband and I looked at each other. He nodded.) “No, honey. They’re not.”
Our younger son (5) was sad and got very quiet. Our older son (9.5) was angry and very outspoken.
“What kind of madman would hurt little, innocent kids, right before Christmas?!?” (I couldn’t agree more.)
Our older son was glad to hear the bad guy couldn’t hurt anyone else (telling him that the gunman “hurt himself” was another topic I wish I didn’t have to talk about), and he had a few ideas about what should have been done to stop him (security-wise) and done to him (throwing him in a volcano full of lava kept coming up).
At prayer time, we always thank God first and then ask Him to help the poor, people at war, our sponsored child, and people on our prayer list. Our older son was still angry and began thanking God that the killer was dead. I explained that we are all angry and hurt and confused, and that it’s okay to feel that way, but that, if we want a world full of love and peace, we also need to pray loving and peaceful prayers and be loving and peaceful ourselves. So, he closed his eyes, took a breath, and thanked Jesus for his toys, that Christmas is around the corner, that some of the kids were saved, and for being able to spend Christmas with his family (his eyes began to water and he hugged me). Then he asked that God please give the mommies and daddies of the little kids a second chance to be happy. His eyes teared up and he hugged me again. He said he wants to write a letter to the parents and the school and send them $10 (a lot of money in his world). I said we would do that.
I wiped his tears and said, “Thank you for loving other people. You’re a good heart. A beautifully good heart. “ He smiled.
I kissed the area of his chest over his heart and said my own prayer of thanks that he was in my arms and I could do that. I was very aware of the fact that at least 20 other parents were longing to do the same with their children that night.
“Good night, my baby. Have sweet dreams”
“Good night, Mama.”
And, as I walked out of his room the tears of sadness, fear, love, and gratitude began to fall all at once!
This was not an easy conversation to have with our children, and I hope we never have to worry about having one like it again. I am, however, happy with the way my husband and I handled it. It felt like, even though our initial reactions were different (sadness vs. anger), we were on the same page.
That’s not always the case in our marriage, as in virtually every other relationship. Sometimes he had an idea for how we should explain something or discipline the kids that is different from mine. Sometimes we differ in how we want to approach a decision, make a purchase, or what we want to do with the kids on the weekend. In the past, when this would happen, I would “argue” my point, give my “opinion,” and, I’m embarrassed to say, I would do whatever I thought was best, completely disregarding my husband’s ideas. I was the teacher, I knew kids better than he, and I was always “right.” And it cost me with regard to the intimacy in my marriage. Big time.
Now I know that, while I still have a right to my own thoughts and opinions, I’m not always right. My husband is another human being in this relationship, and he’s entitled to his own ideas, even if I don’t always agree with them. I have learned that the man I chose to marry would lay down his life for my kids and me, and that I can trust him to make good choices and put our needs first. I don’t have to “defend” or prove that my ideas are valid. I can state them and then we can come to an agreement together, or agree to disagree. By respecting and honoring his thoughts and decisions, our parenting has become much more about teamwork and partnership, and our kids benefit from seeing that, not only do their parents love them, but they also respect and love each other.
And, in a world where it seems like things are out of control, and where it doesn’t always feel safe, I’m glad and grateful that we are able to give them the reassurance that comes with living in a peaceful loving home where they know that we are here, we are a team, that they are safe, and so is their family!
Our heartfelt condolences go to the families of everyone who has been touched by this terrible tragedy. Words cannot begin to provide comfort in such tragic situations, but I hope they will somehow feel the love we are sending their way.
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