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Mike Julianelle

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Why I Won't Explain What Happened in Boston to My Toddler

Posted: 04/16/2013 3:19 pm

This post isn't about uplifting anyone, as I don't have anything uplifting to offer. It's not about expertise, as I'm no expert. I'm merely a normal parent, a relatively new one at that, and it's at times like this that I most feel the weight of that responsibility.

I have a 2-year-old son. He isn't yet able to comprehend an event like yesterday's bombings, let alone formulate questions about it, but seeing the footage would undoubtedly scare him (especially since he's too young to understand whatever explanation we might offer for the event). Which makes watching the news nearly impossible.

As with most everything else, a complicated situation is complicated even further by my responsibilities as a father.

I love Boston. I attended Boston College and lingered in the city for another decade after graduation, in Brookline, Southie and the South End -- not more than a ten-minute walk from where the bombs exploded. It's a great town, home to many close friends and the setting of some of my favorite memories, a handful of which were actually made on Marathon Mondays, watching the race from the Pizzeria Uno on Boylston Street -- shocking close to the finish line -- keeping track of the Red Sox game while cheering on the runners. It's truly a shame that this tragedy will now be associated with what has always been one of the best traditions in New England.

Even without a personal connection, tragedies like this used to be "easier" -- somehow -- before I had a child.

Last week, I wrote a jokey post about all the new stuff I've become afraid of now that I have a child to take care of. Jokey is my default mode; I don't go for the sentimental stuff and I won't do that here. But Boston was my home for a long time and I'm still very much connected to it, and as soon as I learned of what had happened, I wanted to know more. Unfortunately, my son made that difficult.

Our only TV is in the living room, which doubles as my son's playroom much of the time. Watching the news would mean putting potentially graphic, definitely disturbing imagery right in his line of sight. It's not imagery he would necessarily understand, but that doesn't mean it wouldn't have an impact. My wife and I do our best to prevent him from seeing violent programs as much as possible, fictionalized or not; it's not the kind of thing he needs to see at his age, even as it gets harder and harder to prevent.

We're not naive; we know it's impossible to avoid and that even without TV and the rest of pop culture, violence always finds a way to invade everyone's lives, one way or another. But we feel it's our role as parents to shield him from the darker aspects of human nature as long as possible.

Still, I wanted to know. I wanted to see where the explosions occurred, I wanted to know what had happened, I wanted to be sure my friends -- and their friends -- were OK. I wanted to know how close it was to that Pizzeria Uno. But the story broke late afternoon, on a day when my son decided not to take his customary nap and demanded, as always, to be entertained. So, I was forced to keep the TV off, and wait until I could sneak away from helping build a LEGO bridge and glance at my iPhone.

It was worth it to keep my son as blissfully ignorant as possible for as long as possible. But it made me think, for the thousandth time, in the thousandth different way, how difficult -- impossible, really -- it is to protect our kids.

I've seen articles and blog posts and news pieces and interviews on morning talk shows, all detailing how to talk to your kids about tragedies. But my son is 2. We won't be talking to him about what happened yesterday. We'll be keeping the TV off altogether. And if he does catch a glimpse of something or notice Mommy and Daddy are upset, we'll simply distract him with an episode of "Yo Gabba Gabba!" or give him a cookie. We're not at the point where we need to have a discussion. Not yet.

But, we're getting there. Unfortunately, we'll have plenty of other terrible events like this to deal with when he's older and is aware of the world and wants to know -- deserves to know -- in a real, meaningful way, exactly what happened and why. Eventually, he'll be able to find all the information he needs with or without our help, so we'll need to figure out the best way to give that to him.

The scariest part? Despite this awareness, despite knowing I'll soon be faced with the need to comfort my son in the aftermath of some future catastrophe, despite my acceptance of this responsibility, I'll be no closer to answers then than I am today.

Some things simply can't be explained.

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This post was originally published on Dad and Buried.

 

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