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Ron Dicker

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My Daughter's Teacher Killed Her Children -- What Do I Tell My Kid?

Posted: 07/06/2012 4:14 pm

By the end of today, I probably will have told my 9-year-old daughter that her teacher is accused of killing her own two children, and is in the hospital after slitting her wrists.

I won't be able to avoid it. Sure, I'll soften the details, but I will offer a clear picture of what police believe happened.

The basic truths will come out. They always do.

Those in the New York area may have read or seen the story of Lisette Bamenga, a 29-year-old teacher. She apparently served her 4-month-old daughter and 5-year-old son wiper fluid Thursday night and then turned on an unlit gas stove.

Her cop husband came home to the horror and police said they found a suicide note.

It's one of those tabloid-ready stories that spark outrage and sadness from those far removed. But for my daughter, her classmates and parents at P.S. 58 in Brooklyn, N.Y., it's as close as the third grade.

What the hell do you tell your kid? It's hard enough to tell children about large-scale tragedies such as 9/11, but terrorists don't teach your child French, bring in their newborn for show and tell, and tell you how much they care about your kid in a parent-teacher conference. (That was last month, and I'll never forget it now.)

The concept of a trusted authority figure who works with children killing her own innocent flesh and blood is tough enough for grownups to digest. Imagine how a kid must feel.

After the news broke, some class parents didn't want to say anything to their kids. Some were frozen in shock for the moment.

They were valid reactions that no one should question. But here's the thing: It won't matter. The ugly details are as close as a trip to the playground, or a conversation with the older kid who feels compelled to show off what he knows (and doesn't know).

My wife and I decided to start our daughter with the basic facts: Your teacher's children have died. Your teacher is in the hospital. Police are investigating. No lies. It's enough information without having to invoke the subtleties of an investigation in progress, right?

If you think so, you don't have a 9-year-old. By lunch I was peppered with questions. Did a bad man enter the apartment and kill the children? How were they attacked? How did Ms. Bamenga survive? Who, who, WHO did this?

The informational dam is about to break, and I feel powerless to stop it. I don't want to shush her curiosity or offer diverting half-truths. I'd rather tell my child the truth -- gently, compassionately. I will explain that all the details have not come out. I will explain about mental illness, depression and anything else that could move a mother to do such a thing.

At least my daughter will know she can trust me to help her make sense of terrible things. I am confident she will process the information better coming from me and my wife than she would from someone else. I also don't want her to wonder why we didn't give her a more honest truth.

We told it like it was when explaining about two adults we know who committed suicide in the past year. Why stop at someone even closer to her?

We have told our daughter not to talk to her friends about it because they might not know. She gets it.

In the meantime, all the well-meaning advice from a therapist won't bail me out now. My daughter and I are on a collision course with the most brutal kind of truth -- and I better make sure I'm fully there for impact.

Kids are tough. Kids process what they can.

I can keep telling myself that. But to be honest, I still don't know if I'm doing the right thing.

 
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