You just never know when a sensitive, difficult to tackle subject will come up with the kids.
For us, it’s usually because I have NPR on in the car. If I hear certain sorts of stories – stories about child abuse or about rape or sexual abuse – then I flip the station. However, I leave on things about earthquakes, wars, and other natural and man-made disasters. Usually, the kids are in their own worlds, not paying attention to the news. And occasionally, the news sparks positive (or, at least interesting) conversations, like when we listen to This American Life. But sometimes, it means we have to have a talk. I have to explain that people in Haiti are suffering from a terrible disease called cholera or that someone blew up a building in Pakistan. I don’t want them to know that things like that exist, but I also don’t want to hide it.
Sometimes though, a difficult conversation comes up out of nowhere, like when the homeless guy in the alley, who was clearly on something (as this particular guy pretty much always is) told the kids not to dress up for Halloween because costumes freak him out. Why would someone say that to kids? Why does he smell like that? Why do costumes freak out a grown-up? All questions I had to address.
Then there was the other day, when I opened up a book on measurement from the 1970’s. The book is The Long and Short of Measurement by Vicki Cobb. It’s pretty good actually; it’s written in the way of older non-fiction books, many of which seem to do a much better, more in depth job of looking at math or history topics than books today. I had looked at it, thumbing through the pages randomly at the library. However, it wasn’t until I sat down to read it to them that I saw this on the first page to illustrate the “tallest.”
I paused a very long, very pregnant pause. It was a pause that was pretty much impossible to ignore. “What?” the kids wanted to know. “What’s wrong?” So I had to explain that I hadn’t expected to see that in this book. I explained that they were very famous buildings in New York and when the book was written, not long before I was born, they were the tallest in the world. However, I told them, a few years before they were born, some people destroyed them on purpose. Many people died. It was a scary time and seeing the buildings in a book made me feel sad.
In that way that kids have (at least, that my kids have), they nodded solemnly and gave me a little pat, then forgot all about it and asked me to read the story.
Just like I don’t want to hide the horrors of the world from them, I’m glad that they don’t seem to to want to dwell on them.