There Are Rules For Parents To Follow When Confronted With A National Tragedy, Yesterday I Broke Every One

Explaining the Boston Marathon Tragedy To Kids I was a terrible parent yesterday. Not in the usual sense where I sometimes feed my kids Froot Loops for dinner or let them play video games before school or stay up during the summer until way past bedtime, their skin shriveled and their hair reeking of chlorine. Yesterday was a serious day of parental fuckery and I’m not proud of it. I don’t think I damaged my kids in any way, but I broke almost all of the rules the parenting experts say to follow when explaining the Boston Marathon tragedy to kids, how parents are supposed to act when something really awful and devastating happens in the world.

I had CNN on almost all day. When my kids came home, my teenager before his siblings, I was sitting on the sofa watching TV and crying. That is pretty much all I did yesterday from 3:30 until I fell asleep. I barely checked homework. I ate dinner with my children on the couch in front of the awful images flashing on my screen. I explained to them why I was so upset, but I didn’t remind them to “look for the helpers”  and I didn’t turn off the TV and I couldn’t stop crying.

I’m lucky that my kids are past toddler stage and at the ages where they have developed a sense of empathy and they could understand why I was so upset. I should have done what most good parents did, which was turn off the TV and talk to their kids more and distract them with board games or books. I just sat there hugging my daughter until my arms were sore and my eyes were red and thought about all these people, people who came from all over the world to run, because that is where they find their joy, in running, people who saved money and trained and planned for this and who ran for themselves and who ran in honor of others who they have lost. People who ran the marathon with their loved ones and friends and an 8-year-old boy who waited at the finish line for his daddy to finish the race and who died. And we don’t know why.

And the numbers are worse today, the nine children, a 2-year-old with a head injury, a 9-year-old with a severely damaged leg. Something like 141 injured. These people who were all going to spend the day cheering on these joyful runners, these strangers, these family members, these people who had no idea that by the end of the day tragedy would forever mark what was supposed to be an occasion of joy. And we don’t know why.

My kids are getting to the ages where they can all fully understand that sometimes horrific and senseless things happen in the world, and that we can grieve during these times, and we can feel lost and sad and angry and helpless, and that our blessings are in these walls, in each other, and in those we love and care for, people we know and strangers alike on this great big earth. I can keep the TV off tonight when they are home, and I can get my shit together enough where I’m not crying. But like so many of you, I will have a hole in my heart for all those who won’t be with those they love, who will never be able to run again.

I have nothing for you guys. I should try and find something happy to write about, and I will, but until then, I’m here, for what it’s worth, and even though we can’t make sense of this and we have no idea why it happened, if you are also finding it hard to keep it together, whether by yourself or in front of your kids, know that you are not alone.


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  • LiteBrite

    I’ve got nothing too.

    I got home from work last night and barely had time to eat dinner much less sit down to a philosophical discussion with my five-year-old son before I had to be off somewhere again. When I got home, he was in bed. I don’t know if I’m going to tell him anything, to be honest. On the one hand, he’s five; he doesn’t need this shit in his head, and he’s not going to understand it anyways. At the same time, he’s in school, and I don’t know what they’re talking about there, if anything.

    And as morbid as this sounds, as I went to bed last night, I wondered just what in the hell I was thinking bringing a child into a world where deranged teenagers walk into an elementary school and open fire and random people plant bombs at marathons (not to mention all the atrocities that happen around the globe).

    • Eve Vawter

      I feel you Litebrite.

    • Selahmarie11

      I was five when the Oklahoma City Bombing happened. Feel free not to tell him, but if he has questions, please be open and honest about what happened and how it made you feel. He may not understand everything, but will appreciate (and remember) that you helped him through some confusing emotions.

    • Almost A Mom

      If it makes you feel any better, my mother told me that during the time she was pregnant with me, and the first several years after I was born, she had the same thoughts about bringing a child into this mess of a world.

      Cheap cocaine was flooding the streets, and crack was only a few years away, someone tried to assassinate the president, the country fell into a recession, and the fear and misinformation surrounding those early years of AIDS/HIV were just about to hit.

      I think that no matter the time, parents will always wonder about the world they’re bringing their child into. I don’t think it’s morbid, I think it’s natural.

  • MarisaSays

    Yesterday was a day I was thankful not to have a kid yet to explain both the horror of what happened in Boston or my panic-filled reaction to. I found myself wondering at one low point why I would even consider bringing a child into a world like this.

    Thank you for writing so honestly about this.

  • CrazyFor Kate

    Those “rules” are guidelines only. If your kids could handle your reaction (and it sounds like they could), you weren’t doing anything wrong. My mother went into a similar reaction after hearing about 9/11; I was 9 at the time, and though it was upsetting for a few moments, it wasn’t traumatic or anything. Please don’t feel bad about giving in to your feelings.

  • Tea

    I started into the earl-grey vodka at 4, and somehow managed to find the bed. I spent most of the afternoon contacting and pinging Boston friends, and even found out a guy I know was working in a building right by there and saw a lot more than anyone should. He had to walk home because the subway was down. Boston is an hour and a half away, we go there all the time, I almost tried to convince my husband we should go rescue said friend and give him a lift.

    I still can’t get a hold of one guy, and I don’t know if I want to hug him or call him a bastard for not checking his email, or both. I’m out of wit today, unfortunately I’m also out of vodka.

    • Jen

      I’m hoping your friend is ok and just taking time to catch his breath. I have no one in that tragedy and it broke my heart. I’m so sorry you have to experience the fear for a friend. Hugs.

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  • Jen

    Days like yesterday make me wonder if my attempts to conceive are right. Do I really want to bring a child into this? I can’t wrap my head around this, I’m terrified to be in in Eve and other parent’s position to try to explain this to innocent kids. I can’t explain it to my fiancé. That being said Eve, I’m sure in some ways seeing your reaction was helpful to your kids…in the face of terrorism it’s ok to break for a minute. To not understand. Better than blithely moving through life as if yesterday never happened. Sending some good vibes your way.

  • AP

    I grew up watching the news with my parents. I watched tracer bullets fly in Operation Desert Storm. I watched people in smoke-covered handkerchiefs pour out of the 1993 WTC bombing. I watched beachhouses get consumed with waves in hurricanes. I learned about gangs, shootings, robberies, and assaults.

    I then went to an urban college with kids whose parents thought these were inappropriate things for kids, and I saw how trusting and naive many of them were out in the world. Accepting rides from strangers, walking through crime-ridden neighborhoods alone at 3 am, pushing into the middle of riots because “it’s history!” And on top of that, they had no political awareness whatsoever and didn’t even remotely care about world events (one insisted the Cold War wasn’t real.)

    I’m very, very grateful that my parents allowed me to see the real world for what it is. The world can be an ugly place, and kids need to learn that in order to protect themselves.