THE CHILDHOOD BUBBLE
It was a weekend of silence after deafening blows. One in which we will always remember where we were when we first heard about the terrorist attacks on Friday the 13th in Paris. One where we will recall dreading having to share the awful news with our children.
My husband and I were at the movies, mindfully blissful in the mindlessness of the latest James Bond movie when his phone started vibrating with messages, inquiring if his sister and her family in Paris were safe. Safe? From what? Not until we got outside of the movie theater, and stumbled back into the chaos of Rome on a Friday night did we gather the horror, and start to worry.
High-speed technology enabled us to hear his sister’s voice instantaneously, and be reassured of her safety, and those of our other relatives living in Paris. But a silence and gloom cast a pall over everything, and we shuffled back home in a terrified daze, groping for bits of information off our cell phones, and grasping for truth and answers in the silence.
The first thing we did when we walked through our door at home was check on our sleeping children, envious of their not yet knowing what they would eventually learn and eager to touch them, hold them, and protect them.
As I held their chubby hands, warm from sleep, I asked myself again the one question I ask myself daily: how long do we keep our children in a protective bubble? How do we know what to edit when it comes to issues of life, death, safety, and well-being? When do they become “old enough” to hear about reality and digest it?
There is no such parental manual that answers just this, even though I look for one every time I enter a bookstore. As parents, we use our common sense, follow our intuition, and hope for the best. We judge according to each situation, and deliver as much information as possible on a need-to-know basis. But the questions inevitably arise from the sharp little minds of our budding babes and we ride with the waves as they come to us.
Our children were most struck by the idea that their cousins in Paris were advised to spend the entire weekend inside for fear that “bad guys” might hurt them. Freedom for them is going outside, riding bikes, running in the park, kicking a ball around a playground. To be deprived of such a simple luxury was acceptable to them for a day or two -- “like a snow day,” they said, in which they could watch movies and play all those video games usually forbidden. But beyond a weekend cooped up inside, they wanted life to go on afterwards, back to “normal.”
And perhaps that’s the most wonderful thing about having children around us in these tragic times – they force us to move forward, to get outside, to skip or hop, to ride a scooter or a bike, and to break out of their own protective bubble. We can teach them as much as we’d like, they take away from school as much as they choose, but what they observe and hear through osmosis also contributes to their own perspective.
In watching an American sitcom the other night, my children grew silent with eyes glued to the television set as they witnessed a moment between young teenagers expressing an interest in each other (no physical contact -- just kind words of affection). My nine-year-old son squirmed at the “lovey-dovey-speak,” and my six-year-old daughter responded to him with, “Oh, come on, that’ll be you one day with a girlfriend. Or a boyfriend.”
They take it all in somehow, somewhere, and they are growing up in a generation of openness where not much is repressed. But, over time, I guess that protective bubble loses air, and eventually pops when they reach adulthood. And our job, as parents, is to make sure that the popping isn’t deafening for them but, rather, a cathartic release from childhood.
In thinking about the tragedy of this past Friday night in Paris, I am haunted by the silence that followed these events that we, as viewers of television or readers of papers, cannot hear through media transmissions. To think of those celebrating music at the concert that then had to endure the sound of gunfire and bodies falling next to them. To see photographs of empty, echoing metro stations where no one dared ride transportation in the aftermath. To then hear the French national anthem, La Marseillaise, sung by the Metropolitan Opera at its Saturday matinee in New York reduced me to tears.
Sometimes I want to live in that protective bubble with my kids. And I often think of something my father used to say to me when times were tough and I sought comfort: “It’s time for milk and cookies.”