Friday, May 13, 2011

Explaining Osama

This is this past week's Newsweek cover.

Wayne and I were discussing the latest development when the girls began asking some questions about what happened.

Where do we begin?

How much do we explain? Can they ever understand? 

9/11 is my generation's Pearl Harbor. I will always remember where I was, the feeling of loss and helplessness, the understanding that the world had suddenly changed forever, and no one knew what would happen next.

Our daughters weren't even born when it happened.

We began talking about what Osama Bin Laden had done and that our country had killed him to stop him from killing more Americans. They seemed to grasp it, and the next night Marissa asked us about the "evil man" we talked about the previous night. She wanted to know if he had lived in Minnesota and if we were in danger. We got out the globe and talked about where he had been when he attacked the U.S. Suddenly Minnesota wasn't far enough away to be safe until we reassured her that he was dead.

This is one of the things I struggle with as a parent: How much do we explain of some of the world's issues and at what ages? Did we tell them too much? Too little? How do we put it into terms they will understand?

There are some pieces of history that are more than just a collection of names, dates, skirmishes and battles. The events of 9/11 are one such event, a day that changed the world forever. They do not belong filed away in their heads with the Battle of the Bulge, Watergate or the Bay of Pigs. All important events -- I don't mean to diminish them -- but their importance was unveiled with time as they unfolded. They became historic as they became history.

9/11 belongs filed away with Pearl Harbor, with the days Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed, with the day JFK was assassinated.

Within a single day, most people in the world knew of those events, of their importance or that their lives would take a turn they hadn't expected or wanted.

Do we explain this?

I would rather that my children know not to answer the door to strangers, to never approach an adult in a car asking for directions, and to look both ways before crossing the street.

But at some point they will learn of the greater dangers in the world, and I want them to learn them from their parents' perspective.

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