To shield or to prepare kids?It seems eerily "beshert...

SATURDAY MAILBOX

August 21, 1999

To shield or to prepare kids?

It seems eerily "beshert," which is Hebrew for "meant to be," that I opened my newspaper Aug. 11 to read an article about one mother's attempt to shield her children from a horrific murder across the street from her home ("A mother's shield," Aug. 11).

This mother is petrified that her 7- and 10-year-old daughters will learn the truth about this violence so close to home and describes how she evades questions about Littleton, Colo., Kosovo and other acts of violence.

I can certainly understand the urge to "spin" our world's craziness into language that is reassuring to children, yet I can't feel comfortable with Ms. Donovan's approach.

I had gone to bed the previous evening wondering how I would explain to my eldest, a 7-year-old, that a gunman had walked into a Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles, indiscriminately shooting children and adults -- a JCC very much like the one where my family recently saw a play, where I have meetings frequently, one right next door to where Grandma works and where friends go to school and camp.

I tell my husband that I wish I could shield our kids from these horrors, that I don't want to let them out of the house. Perhaps if we lock the doors and close the shades, we will be able to protect them. But I know that we cannot.

I knew that I would have to say something truthful when my 7-year-old inevitably asked, as he did seconds after seeing the front page picture in the newspaper of small children holding hands, "Why are they with police officers?"

So I say that a gunman went into a building and shot people. He asks where and I tell him California. I know that later I will have to be specific and it will come out that these children were in a Jewish Community Center.

I know he will wonder, even if he doesn't say it, is it just like our JCC?

Using other words, he will be asking, "Am I safe?"

And I will try to reassure him by telling him that he is safe. We will probably talk about the fact that some people do terrible things to others.

I will make the point that some of these people are white, some are black, they are Jewish and non-Jewish. I will tell him that some people hate Jews, and he will probably ask me about his 90-year-old great-grandfather, who (at my urging) has begun sharing with my son some of his experiences in Nazi Germany.

I will tell him that sometimes things happen that we cannot explain. I will tell him that overwhelmingly people are good and, thankfully, he knows that through his own experience.

At the same time that I desperately want to shield my children, I want them to know, without knowing too much, about violence in our lives. I want them to know that there are people who suffer from violence, poverty or disease.

While I want to permit my kids every privilege and protection I am able, I also want them to be able to empathize -- to know that people are vulnerable and life is fragile. I want them to appreciate how fortunate they are, but I want this and the knowledge of life's horrors to lead them to become vital members of our society.

I want them to work for change, to repair the world, so that these issues are no longer dilemmas when they become parents.

So, while we lingered longer than usual in our home that morning, I took my children out into the world -- and I did so knowing that they are vulnerable, as we all are.

Shelly L. Hettleman

Baltimore

The juxtaposition of Myung J. Chun's photographs, especially the one on the front page, and Heather Donovan's article, "A mother's shield," was fortuitous (Aug. 11).

The policemen in Mr. Chun's front-page photo are shielding children from the horror and terror of the Los Angeles shooting, leading them to safety.

How would Ms. Donovan deal with these children? "How much confidence can a child raised in horror grow up with?" she asked.

My two children were about the ages of Ms. Donovan's children when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

It was a numbing experience for us, but we went to Washington to see his body brought to the Capitol and we watched on television the funeral procession to Arlington National Cemetery.

I think it helped my children. But I don't think it's deceitful of Ms. Donovan to take a different approach. Parents must cope with violence in their own way.

Tom Gill

North Beach

We call it "the bubble." We watch "Arthur" and "Barney," but no local or national news. They are too scary. We avoid discussing the tragedies of other families in Littleton, Colo. and Georgia. They are too real.

Acknowledging these painful experiences would break the delicate surface of the bubble we are intent on maintaining.

Our daughters are 7- and 4-years-old. They have so little time to be children. Childhood is a time for play and discovery. We want them to enjoy the sunflowers, splash in the creek and play with their friends -- feeling safe and surrounded by love.

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