Heavy conversations

Usually I write these posts days in advance, and reread them several times before posting. I can’t, for obvious reasons, bring myself to do that this time. I apologize if this is a rambling, nonsensical mess.

“My grandmother is terminally ill,” Anya explains, her mouth rolling carefully around the word terminally.

“That means she is really sick and will die,” she adds.

For the longest time, I skated around this truth with the children. I’m not sure what I thought I was going to accomplish. When I was growing up, children were shielded from disease and death and dying. No sense dragging them into such sad subjects. Then the world gave us a global pandemic and hard discussions became de rigeur. My kids know more about deadly communicable diseases than I did in February 2020.

It’s painful, bringing Mom’s health out into the open like that. Their questions are like daggers. It’s gut-wrenching when Kai tries to find a way to fix her, because he is little and does not want to lose his Mimi yet. I don’t want to lose her either. That’s my mom.

But talking about it just might help prepare us for the day that is coming on us way too fast. Hiding from it makes it seem unbearable. So I have begun to talk to them about Mimi. I tell them she will someday be gone. We have discussed where they would prefer she be buried. We talk about all the ways we can make the most of the time we have with her, because we do not know when that time will run out. Sometimes I cry as we talk. I try not to, because it distresses them, but I don’t want them to be afraid to feel or show emotion. Sometimes they cry too.

In this house, we talk about hard things. Things other people may consider inapproriate for children to know about. I don’t just mean disease, death, or even sex — though they can tell you exactly where babies come from. I’m talking about about racism and sexism, hate crimes and genocides, climate change and Chernobyl. We’ve talked about Ruby Bridges and Black Wall Street, the truth of the first Thanksgiving, and Matthew Shepard. They know about the boy from a neighboring town who hung himself in a school bathroom this year, and the classmates who recorded it.

But I cannot bring myself to tell them about Uvalde.

Anya knows school shootings have occurred, of course. She has participated in as many active shooter drills as she has fire, tornado, and earthquake drills. She knows that I watched coverage of Sandy Hook while sobbing into her baby-fine curls. She knows I had planned to homeschool her until she begged me to send her to school. She knows how reluctantly I agreed to let her go.

They both know about the mass shooting in a grocery store 30 miles from here. It’s not one we shop, but we frequent other stores in that area. Mass shootings are not a new concept to them. It breaks my heart to type that.

If I were to tell them about Uvalde, would they ever feel safe in a school again? In a store? On a playground? Should they? How am I supposed to tell them that a bunch of kids their age were identifiable only through clothing and DNA tests? What are they supposed to do with that? How are they supposed to live with that in their heads? How are any of us?

So I haven’t told them. I’ve cried in showers, in closets, in the morning before they wake up. They sense something is off, but they don’t know what. And for once, I’ve not explained.

I talk to my kids about the hard subjects. And I tell them that, in spite of all the pain and hate and unfairness in the world, there is still beauty in it. I tell them that they are part of that beauty. I tell them that it is their responsibility to spread that beauty, to bring light to the darkness, to leave the world better than they found it. I tell them that love triumphs over hate. I don’t know how to explain to them that there are strangers who would shred their tiny bodies with weapons of war just to make a point. I don’t know how to explain to them that there are people who would enable these murders in exchange for money, votes, and power. I don’t know how I can continue to believe that love will win over hate when we keep allowing people to slaughter our babies. And if I don’t believe it, why should they?

The morning after the Uvalde shootings, I enrolled them in homeschool for the coming year. Maybe it’s cowardly of me to do so. Plus I’m beyond exhausted, and probably failing them academically. But my burdens are nothing compared to those faced by parents whose babies will never come home from school. Our challenges pale in comparison to those faced by the family, friends, and teachers those babies left behind. This is a small price to pay to keep them safe.

I will have to tell them about Uvalde at some point. But for now I’m content to carry this weight alone, to shield them from this particular darkness a little while longer. I need them to keep the light going. Hopefully they can lead me back to it.

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