Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Trouble with Normal

My kids came home Friday afternoon as always.

Excitable hopped into the minivan at parent pickup, greeting me with his typical “Hey, Pops” as he squeezed his backpack in between the captain’s chairs in the middle row.

“Did they say anything to you at school about what happened?” I asked.

“About what?”

I told him there had been a shooting earlier in the day at an elementary school in another part of the state.

I didn’t tell him that the school was only about 45 minutes north of us.I didn’t tell him about the 20 children only a few years younger than him that died.

Li’l Diva walked into the house about an hour later after her usual trek home from the bus stop at the top of our neighborhood. I asked how her day at middle school went. The standard “fine,” she said, as she set down her bag and went about making a snack to fuel her afternoon of music video making, courtesy of an iPhone app she’s enslaved to these days.

I asked if anyone at school mentioned Newtown.

Her math teacher had said something briefly during last period. She went on with her snack making, oblivious to the TV news reports flashing only a few feet away.

Twitter and Facebook had been pinging regularly on my computer for several hours. People, most of them those I know only through this blog or other social media, wanted to know if we were OK.

Everything is normal, I’d answer back. It wasn’t near us. We’re all fine.

We live on the opposite side of the county from Newtown. To many, this would still seem frighteningly close, but it is a distance made great by our state’s lack of cohesiveness. While Connecticut is among the nation’s smallest states even neighboring towns and cities can be almost halfway around the globe in many of our minds. Blame Yankee independence, our home rule tradition where every municipality is on its own without a county government to oversee and foster relationships, our Northeastern cynicism, our geographic limbo that divides resident loyalties between all things New York City and all things Boston, our reluctance to face the reality of slogging through traffic to travel even few miles outside our hometowns; blame you will. It all contributes to our isolation from each other on this tiny, congested slab of the country on which we make our home.

For once, I am thankful for that. So I thought.

Four days have passed. I know my children are aware. They’ve been exposed to the media coverage, purposefully at times and casually at others. There have been discussions in the schools and with their friends. (A relative of one of Li’l Diva’s classmates, it seems, may have been one of the littlest victims.) They have seen the added police presence, and wariness in their teachers’ eyes. They live a world saturated with grief and outrage and anxiety and confusion as to what happened and what shall be.

People I know or at least see online everyday who are hundreds and thousands of miles away talk about how this is like 9/11 again. Their kids are panicked, shaking and fretting. They need strength and prayer to calm and reassure them that they are safe.

Yet, in my children, I see no change. No worry. They work on school projects. Go to dance classes or sleepovers. Talk of Christmas gifts to buy or receive. Watch too much TV. Turn the music up too loud. Ignore my requests to put away dishes or pick up clothes.

Life is still as it was for them before Friday -- before the incomprehensible unfolded in a town just 35 miles away at a place called Sandy Hook Elementary School.

And I cannot quite determine whether this is good or this is bad.

24 comments:

  1. It really is quite normal. The minds of children don't work the way adult minds do, and this is by design. If children were deeply, painfully, irreversibly affected by tragedy throughout the ages, our species probably would have died out.

    Children also really don't have a concept of death, or its permanence. The best thing we can do for our kids, in the aftermath of this tragedy, is to let them just be kids. Making them "feel something" is contrary to their survival programming and will only mess them up in the long run.

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    1. I would never try to make them feel something. But the seeming indifference ... wasn't sure what to make of it.

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  2. I wonder the same. I know it's normal for kids to process in a different manner but my fear is that they have heard so many of these stories that they are becoming desensitized. My teen sons response was, "It happens like once a month now." And he wasn't saying it out of fear or sadness. Just matter of fact.

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    1. Wow. That statement is scary. I don't think anyone in our family's situation should overreact as I've seen some, but I would be truly worried if we start viewing these tragedies as routine.

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  3. It is neither good nor bad. It simply is. The sun came up this morning. Life goes on.

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  4. We're about the same distance from Newtown in the other direction. My daughter's response has been about the same as your kids.

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  5. kids know you are freaked out.. and are taking the low road.. to protect you and keep you sane.. it is what kids do for their parents.. guess it is easier to live with us that way

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    1. Actually, I'm not freaked out. Horrified but far from hysterical. My Love and I never made a big deal about the shooting publicly or to our children because we didn't want them to freak out.

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  6. My wife vaguely explained what happened to our oldest, in case she heard about it at school. She just kind of shrugged her shoulders and said ok and went about the rest of her evening. It's frustrating as hell, not knowing what is going on I that little keppe of hers.

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    1. This is why we are brothers from another mother. Those poor women.

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  7. It's normal and psychologists advise to not overexpose kids to the media's barrage of stories on the incident. Otherwise, you raise kids who are afraid to leave the house.

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    1. And I have exclusive domain on the fraidy cat gene in our house. Thanks, B.

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  8. I think that as a society, we are much more in tune to making sure that kids have the resources available to them to talk about whatever they need. They are told it's okay to be sad/scared/nervous/etc. which is good. It really is. But there's also something to be said about well meaning adults making it too much of an issue for kids, therefore creating fear where there might not really be any.

    Let's face it, if it doesn't interrupt their day, it's a non-issue.

    It's horribly tragic, and sadly there will be another horribly tragic event of some kind down the road. If they are not "affected" by this one, consider them lucky. They still don't have full comprehension of how scary and unfair the real world can be.

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    1. Good perspective, Juli. Your kids are fortunate to have you.

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  9. I have wondered the same about my two children, ages 11 and 8. They seem so unfazed relative to the tragic events. We watched President Obama's speech in Newtown together and we have talked about the events. I stressed that such incidents are rare and their schools are safe. But, they haven't let the incident change anything about their own lives.

    For me, like many others, the events have caused so much emotion. I've cried, been distracted, experienced anger and even some paranoia as I sat in the middle school auditorium tonight for a Winter concert thinking what would I do if a madman opened fire here.

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    1. Our kids are tougher than we give them credit for. Thanks for your story, Henry.

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  10. We are also 45 minutes from Newtown, but in another direction. My kids (high school and middle school) came home already knowing what happened. They were very matter of fact about it Friday, but by Saturday it was sinking in. By Saturday night, they both realized they each had a friend who was related or friends with a child who had died.

    I share your wondering of whether it is good or bad that they realize this tragedy has affected people they know, that it's not just a news story to them any more.

    So heartbreaking.

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  11. Just echoing what others have said ...

    Kids are self-centered, and this is given to them for their protection. They do not fully understand what is involved in violence, and again this is good. (Although we do need to educate them a bit so they don't inadvertantly hurt themselves or others.)

    My 3 & 2 yr old were very concerned about tornados when we lived in Dallas. They had seen one in a book, and the picture captured their imagination. On the other hand, the 2 year old (now 3) thinks it would be fun to get his eye poked out. He is fascinated and excited by gory things. So you never know what will scare them.

    As we get older, see and experience more stuff, and especially as we have kids of our own, life softens our hearts like use softens leather.

    When I was a kid, I heard a lot about starving kids overseas and victims of wars. I hope I am not typical, but my response was not so much compassion as trying to feel guilty because I thought that was what was being asked of me. Even as adults, we don't have the emotional capacity to care about every tragedy. We are finite. We have to limit ourselves to the ones closer to us (as this is to you), or to the occasional one that for no apparent reason grabs our heart.

    I really, really feel for the kids who witnessed this. I pray they have understanding adults around them to get them through all the horrible things they must be feeling.

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  12. Totally different situation, but we had a house fire (that started in Nathan's room) when the kids were little. The officer and fire chief both told us to not really talk about it, because that would be too much for the kids. They were kind of unaware of the severity and even now that they know it happened, they still don't know how terrified we were. I think it's for the best, for now.

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  13. A "ditto" to others....

    As maddening as it is at times, kids' self-centered worlds keep them safe. Also, I think even teenagers have a hard time comprehending the reality of this. Like other tragedies, it is incomprehensible that on human could hurt another this way. Teenagers are immortal in their own minds, nothing will ever happen to them. It happens somewhere else.

    We parents are the ones who look at our kids and still see the innocent, freckle faced child with missing front teeth smiling back at us and know what others have lost. We understand the heartbreak as only a parent can.

    So I would you (and me) are normal for worrying about our children. And I would say our kids are normal for getting on with life. Hopefully, they will drag us along with them.

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  14. Hey, I'm behind on my google reader so am just now seeing this.

    I think it's good. As horrible as this incident was, it was isolated. I don't think it's helpful to be scared or stressed all the time after an isolated terrible event.

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