My husband and I exchange a quizzical look.
“Did you talk about the earthquake in Japan at school today?” he asks our 4 year-old son.
“And did you talk about a place called Libya too?”
With that he bounds up from the table to take his dirty dishes to the counter. We determined that inside his little head a million neurons were firing this way and that tangling together the horrific tsunami that washed over Japan and the crisis in Libya.
Who can blame him, really? I have got twenty-five years on him and I can’t keep the chaos of the world straight.
So here we are, my husband and I, at a crossroads of sorts. Do we sit down with our son and explain to him that he is confusing two events? Do we further the discussion that he had at school and answer any questions he may have? Or do we just follow his cue and take our own dirty dishes to the counter and move on?
When reading Tralee Pearce’s article, I was transported to the early 1990’s. Images from the Gulf War flashed across the T.V. screen in our family room each night and early morning “current events” discussions at school were dominated by the anatomy of gas masks, sand storms, AK-47s and of course, Saddam Hussein.
The Gulf War was my first exposure to war. Up to then I had only read stories about the World Wars and listened attentively to the veterans who visited our school auditorium. But seeing the images of missiles light up the Baghdad sky terrified me.
At night my stomach would be in knots and lying on my bed, staring at the dark ceiling, I would think about the possibility of our own country under attack. In true child-form, everything that I knew about war muddied together in my head and the result was petrifying.
Atomic bombs might fall on us – just like in Sadako and The Thousand Paper Cranes. My parents, brother and I might have to live in a small shelter and wait to be rescued – just like Ann Frank. Maybe we won’t have any food and have to grow our own – just like my grandparents had to do.
While I was much older than my son is today during the Gulf War, I don’t want him to experience the same level of anxiety as I did. I want to be there for him and to reassure him that he is safe, even when the world seems like it is falling to pieces.
Tralee Pearce’s article suggests that we use “corrective feedback” and keep images of traumatic events to a minimum. There is no doubt that images can leave lasting impressions – in some cases more so than words.
I still remember a photograph of Karla Homolka splayed across the front page of the newspaper when I was just twelve years old. Her penetrating brown eyes stared coldly at the camera telling me that she was no innocent and to do this day I can’t view images from 9/11 without getting goose bumps and feeling queasy.
As I tuck my son in for bed, I lie down beside him and ask again about his day. He retells the story of the giant waterfall that washed away lots of homes. He turns on his side and rests his head on his hand. He looks intently at me. His blue eyes the mirror of my own.
“Will a giant waterfall wash away our house?” he asks.
“Nope. Not ever. We don’t live near the ocean.” I answer him.
“Will our house ever shake a lot and the walls fall down?”
This is it. I am back at the crossroads. I can tell him the truth. That there is a possibility of our home being shook to pieces by the force of the earth. After all, there was a quake that measured 5.0 on June 23 of this past year.
Or I can tell a fib. But it’s not really a fib. It’s just like when I tell him that Santa is watching and that the Tooth Fairy loves clean teeth. It’s a way to preserve his innocence a little bit longer. It’s the type of fib that I wish I could tell myself now and then.
“Nope. Not ever. We’re safe here.” I tell him with conviction and kiss him goodnight.
photo credit: http://www.childrens-bed.com