I’m afraid to turn on the news. I’m afraid to scroll through Facebook. I’m afraid to utter the word, “Orlando.” The city, normally conjuring up vacations and beaches and airbrushed t-shirts, is now synonymous with tragedy. Both devastating events—the deadly shooting, the alligator attack—are weighing on my heart as a human, as an animal activist, as a friend, as a mother.
Mothering is challenging enough. There’s another being to feed, cloth, care for. There are toys to pick up, tantrums to soothe, rashes to slather in cream. There are kisses and hugs and nighttime snuggles, little plump fingers touching my mouth in sleep. For so many reasons I want to stay in that bubble. Especially after these tragedies. I know how to meet Tallulah’s basic needs, but how do I teach her morality, loss, and an understanding of life’s horrors? We all think about ethics in our parenting—geez, I wrote an entire children’s book to convey personal ethics to Tallulah—but we never think about teaching them about mass shootings. That they aren’t immortal. No, we never tell them that.
We read them bedtime stories about people flying, mountains climbed, princesses saved. We never tell them that the same animals we love in our books and cartoons are real and wild and nature is brutal. We never tell them to distance the wild world and the domestic. We don’t tell them that there are divisions in the real world: color, religion, politics. And that sometimes these differences anger people, and they do heinous things. Children wouldn't understand. They want everyone to come to their birthday party. They smile at all the other babies. That innocence is truly ephemeral.
One of these Orlando events was a tragic collision of nature and human. The other was manmade. That shooter was once somebody’s dimpled baby. Can we believe that? Everyone, good and bad, was a small child. Everyone cried and wanted to be soothed. Everyone toddled around with chubby knees. How does life go from precious to frightening? What makes someone do horrible, horrible things? I bet many children are asking their parents that right now? Why do these things happen? Tragedy begets so many questions.
What do we tell them? Do we wrap the bubble tighter? Do we let them believe in unicorns and talking frogs? Or do we get drastic and bitter, shred the bubble. Tell them the world is horrifying and dangerous and some people do these things. Do we turn off the television, the radio, keep them in a circle of blissful ignorance? Do we choose their friends for them? Maybe that baby that giggles back at them at the playground will grow up destructive and hateful. We hope not, but who knows?
We hope they all stay small and happy forever.
What do we do? What do we do? How do you explain life? How do you explain love and hate and grief and death? How do you explain these things to this little person, the same tiny human that points and shrieks at a lone leaf like it’s the most beautiful and exciting thing in the world?