A safe and successful Boston Marathon one year from the one that broke all our hearts. I am heartened to see the city unbowed and full of pride. Yet even as we honor coming through one tragedy, others arise to take its place. On April 9, a 16-year-old teen took two kitchen knives and wounded 21 fellow students and a security guard at his suburban Pittsburgh high school. On April 13, three people, including a 14-year-old boy, were shot outside a Jewish community center in Kansas. The suspect, Frazier Glenn Miller, was “a known racist and anti-Semite with ties to the Ku Klux Klan,” the New York Times reported. (The victims, however, turned out not to be Jewish.) As a parent, I find myself struggling against fear every time my son walks out the door.
And yet it was also a tragedy of deliberate violence that gave me the impetus to start down the road to parenthood. My spouse had always wanted children. I hadn’t been opposed to them, but a few career shifts since college had kept me focused on establishing myself in my latest job. I had been working on the top floor of a building right next to the World Trade Center in New York City until two business days before Sept. 11, 2001. After the horror of that day, I began to reflect on unseized opportunities and the swiftness of our lives. That, coupled with the family joy I saw and experienced over a relative’s new child, gave me the added push I needed to visualize myself as a parent. My spouse and I began to talk seriously about it in the months that followed, and about a year later, she was pregnant with my egg.
Nevertheless, I found it extremely difficult when I first had to explain to my son that there were people in the world who did bad things on such a large scale. He was eight on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and we could not prevent him from hearing about them. I forget exactly how it happened — the end of a news report on the radio or a memorial ad in the local paper or some such — but I found myself having to explain to him what may have driven people to such acts, trying desperately to avoid both the simplicity of George Bush’s “evildoers” and an explanation too complicated for him to grasp. I also didn’t want him to think that all people from the same country or religion felt or acted in the same way, so I avoided specifics of where the terrorists came from. Mostly, I tried to reassure him that such an event was very rare, and that he need not fear for his own safety.
We had similar discussions last year after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School and after the marathon bombing. At that point, he was of an age when he would have found out about the events anyway from classmates or teachers, and I thought it was best for him to have the conversation at home first. Does he fully understand what happened and why? At this age, probably not — but I am not sure I do, either. Maybe the best we can do is to encourage our children to share their thoughts and concerns with us, and to try and assuage any fears they may have.
His fifth-grade class is now reading “Number the Stars” by Lois Lowry, about a Danish family that hides a Jewish girl during the Holocaust. It is a gentle introduction to the topic, as far as there can be one, but I still get a shiver knowing that he is reading it. I do not want to shield him from the realities of history or contemporary society, even if I could — but I cannot help feeling sad that he is becoming aware of yet another instance of human cruelty. It triggers my parental instinct to protect my child — and I must remind myself that protection sometimes means raising his awareness of possible harms and past ills. I try to balance that with reassurances that he should not be constantly afraid for his own safety — and I realize I have great privilege in being able to say that. Not all families around the world, or even in this country, are so lucky.
I made sure to catch some marathon coverage with him this year because I want to convey the strength of spirit that will forevermore be a part of that event. I know this is a world of dangers both targeted and random. I cannot protect him from them all. If I try, however, I can give him hope.
Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (www.mombian.com), an award-winning blog and resource directory for LGBT parents.