I was in Colorado during the Aurora shootings, and my little nephew kept asking me what's going on.
On July 20, I woke up to a flurry of texts asking me if I was okay. As a New Yorker staying in Boulder, Colorado in July visiting my sister and her family, I was asleep at 8 a.m. mountain time, while back east my friends and family already knew what had happened less than eight hours before in Aurora. I dragged myself from my bed to turn on the news and watched in horror, as we all did, the tragic events that occurred at that Dark Knight showing in Aurora — just 45 minutes from where I am in Boulder.
Like many, all I could do was cry with sadness and anger, and when I went to find my sister, I noticed my three-and-a-half-year-old nephew was standing behind me crying too. He wasn't crying because of what was on the TV; he was crying in response to my crying. To him, the TV was a blur of police lights and bloody videos taken on cell phones. He didn't understand. Then he asked me why I was crying.
As someone who doesn't have children of her own and has never had to explain to a child I love just how terrifying the world can be, I wasn't sure what to say. My little nephew had wanted to go see The Dark Knight Rises, but both my sister and his dad told him that he was years away from being allowed to see it. It's too violent for someone his age, and my sister is doing everything she can to shield her two sons from violence for as long as she can. But as he stood next to me that morning, clutching my hand, there was real violence, real unjustified murder and real heartache flashing on the screen. He wasn't watching a movie; he was watching real life.
I abruptly turned off the TV (I would not have had it on if I knew he was going to come into the room) and told him that a bad man had done horrible things to nice people. He wanted to know the bad man's name (he asks the name of everyone lately), but at the time I didn't know it yet. Even now, my sister's family and I won't utter the killer's name because as both Anderson Cooper and the local politicians here have pointed out, his name should not be remembered; it's the names of the victims that we should say over and over again. Those, we should never forget. Read the rest...
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Being at an inquisitive age, my nephew naturally asked "why?" I couldn't tell him why. So I just repeated that a bad man had done bad things, and no one knew why, and he was probably sick. He then asked me if the bad man had a belly ache. I told him no, the bad man had an ache in his head. From there, I tried to distract him with all the exciting, child-appropriate things we'd be doing that day so he'd stop asking about the bad man. The conversation was temporarily put on hold until bedtime, when he expressed concern about the bad man coming to the house.
In the wake of it all, my nephew's teacher forwarded along this article, which helps to explain, or ideally, simply keep such events out of kids' lives. It focuses on maintaining a routine, doing things like singing to relieve stress, and keeping the TV off. Although we did all these things, it was hard not to discuss the news amongst the adults. My brother-in-law is from Aurora and he used to hang out at that strip mall, so trying to avoid the topic was difficult because it hit so close to home, for him especially. All we could reiterate was that there was a bad man who did bad things, and although it's sad and scary, bad men are a rarity.
I have yet to find the words that truly convey my heartache for the community of Aurora and for all the people who were affected so intimately. I'd like to believe that someday we won't have to explain tragedies like this to our children, but I know that's just a naïve and idealistic notion. All we can do is love those around us with everything we have in the moment, and if and when a tragedy like this strikes again, sum it up in the simplest of terms without giving attention to the shooter: A bad man did bad things to nice people.
How do you talk to your kids (or children in your family) when a tragedy like this hits the news?