07/30/2015 05:12 pm ET Updated Jul 30, 2016

Cecil & Charleston: The Unwanted Lessons of Summer

"We should take the girls to that church," I said to my husband as we finalized plans for a short summer trip to Charleston. "I think it will give us a way to start talking to them about, you know, things."

Things. Things like how to survive a mass shooting and wicked hatred.

Since she was three, my older daughter has worked hard to sneak peeks of the news as it played each morning in our bedroom. I am not sure what sparked her interest -- whether it was the knowledge it was something she wasn't supposed to watch that intrigued her or a genuine curiosity. Knowing her well, I think it was both. This would be a front row seat to recent news she hadn't been allowed to watch.

My youngest daughter, much more carefree by nature, still had little interest in stopping her wildly imaginative games long enough to join us in the real world. So, I thought seeing the makeshift memorials in front of the church where nine worshipers were gunned down would spark an important conversation.

We stumbled upon the church accidentally as we searched for the historic Old City Market, and the questions came in rapid succession before I had a chance to give them the delicately worded explanation I had planned on what happened there.

That was the day my 5- and 6-year-olds learned that some people are so consumed by vile hatred that they will steal innocent lives, which I was happy to quickly follow with the lesson of the seraphic-like ability of forgiveness other people possess. It was the day they listened closely to my lesson about what to do if their paths ever intersect with that of a shooter -- a lesson I felt angry was needed.

But I couldn't answer their most repetitive question ... "Why?"

A lifelong admirer of animals, I've quietly understood hunting for food and the healthy control of some wildlife populations; however, I've never come within a million miles of grasping a thread of understanding for the utter cowardice of trophy hunting.

As I watched the headlines of my favorite national morning show, I decided to let the story of Cecil the Lion play as my girls sat nearby. As the report rolled on to the television screen, I watched closely as my youngest daughter tilted her head in an effort to comprehend.

"Why?" Again, I didn't know -- but another lesson began.

It was a lesson about consequences for breaking the law but, more importantly, a lesson that even when laws don't exist where or how they should that leaves us no less responsible for doing what is right. The message I worked to leave them with reminded me of a heated online debate I had with an acquaintance years before after a big business chose to strip a local school of vital support, thanks to a tax loophole that my opponent pointed out "was totally legal."

I made my best effort to leave my daughters with the understanding that just because something is "legal" -- whether that be slaughtering a majestic creature or using technicalities to shirk an ethical responsibility -- it is ultimately the morality and not the legality with which we should concern ourselves.

My girls will return to the classroom soon, where what they learn about reading, writing and arithmetic will undoubtedly be important; but I know the things they learned from the unwanted lessons of this summer will serve them equally well.