Mommie Dearest: Explaining The Newtown Massacre To My Son
“It’s unthinkable.” That’s what headlines are proclaiming and friends are telling me about the absolutely devastating massacre in Newton, Connecticut.
For me, it’s the complete opposite. I can’t stop thinking about it. Since the first moment the internet started buzzing with slips of information, my mind latched on and couldn’t let go. Days later and it still hasn’t. I’m not sure it ever will.
I become sick thinking about how frightened those children may have been and how none of them deserved to ever be put in that situation. I feel sick thinking about how brave the teachers and staff must have been to continue to function and protect their students while fearing for their own lives.
I can’t stop my brain from forming images of how it might have happened. Then I get sick all over again.
I vacillate between needing to unplug from the onslaught of details being thrown at me from all angles and my need to consume every last bit of information and analysis. Neither feels right, but I’m fairly certain this is one of those situations where there isn’t one right way to react.
I grew up a few towns over from Sandy Hook. Things like this don’t happen there. Things like this shouldn’t happen anywhere.
My Twitter and Facebook feeds have been boiling over since Friday, alternating between people outcrying for more gun control, while others bristle at the fact, either fearful that their second amendment rights will be taken away, or worried that debating gun control will somehow lessen or nullify the senseless deaths of 20 children. I agree to some extent. We shouldn’t have started talking about gun control last Friday. We should have been talking about it and doing something about it the day before, the week before, the year before.
We regulate cars, medication, drugs, and a plethora of other things that don’t have the same mass killing capacity as guns. So why haven’t we been screaming for stricter gun control laws until our throats are raw? How many more events like the one that occurred in Newtown need to happen before actual change is made? We already rank pretty poorly when it comes to gun-related death worldwide, and worst of all, when looking at the children killed by guns in the 23 wealthiest countries in the world, 87 percent are American kids.
Op-ed columnist Nicolas Kristof of the New York Times nailed it when he likened gun-related deaths to a public health crises:
Children ages 5 to 14 in America are 13 times as likely to be murdered with guns as children in other industrialized countries, according to David Hemenway, a public health specialist at Harvard who has written an excellent book on gun violence.
So let’s treat firearms rationally as the center of a public health crisis that claims one life every 20 minutes. The United States realistically isn’t going to ban guns, but we can take steps to reduce the carnage.
Kristof includes a well thought out list of recommendations as to how we can begin to curb gun violence and deaths. If my mind wasn’t frazzeled beyond belief between trying to process this event and turning all primal when it comes to my son, I’m sure I would have some concrete suggestions as well. But for now, all I can do is point you in the direction of some other folks who are thoughtfully and skillfully analyzing the situation.
While I try to get my own handle on this, I’m simultaneously feeling the heavy weight of responsibility in how to help my son understand it all. A kindergartener, he’s currently obsessed with guns. Everything becomes a gun to him: crayons, sticks, string cheese, his sock. I’ve wrestled time and time again with his fascination with guns, and before Friday, I was at a place of uncomfortable acceptance: It’s only a phase, it’s a “boy thing” they all go through, he’ll grow out of it. But now? Now I’m even more pissed off at this culture of violence that we live in that provides the blueprints for things like this to happen. Sure, it’s not as easy as blaming violent video games or graphic movies, and I have no idea if Adam Lanza was a fan of either, but the fact remains that violent media is rampant in our country. Many may share their anecdata about how they played violent video games and are “just fine,” but there’s no denying that our culture of ingrained violence via media has contributed to a desensitized society.
Listening to my son go pew pew pew in the backseat of the car earlier today caused my heart to rise up in my chest until I could taste burning bile in the back of my throat.
I try and separate the two as best I can: my son and his imaginative play and a very real, very devastating, heartbreaking event. Yet something within me flashes red with warning, yellow with caution, and I hate that I live in a society that throws such a difficult parenting stumbling block my way.
I agonized over whether to tell my son what happened and if so, how. In the end, I didn’t have much of a choice or preparation. I simply wasn’t thinking. We were driving back home this past Saturday — from Connecticut of all places — and had a classic rock radio station on. The radio DJ broke in with updated news and before I had a chance to register anything, I was on the receiving line of a barrage of questions: Who died? How did they die? What happened to the guy who did it? Why, Ima? Why? Why did he do it?
All the helpful links people had posted on Facebook and Twitter, the ones that I had flagged to read later, couldn’t help me now. I scrambled, stuttered, and looked to my husband who kept his eyes on the road and his hands gripping the steering wheel as if it held the answers. In the end, I did the best I could, focusing not on the fact that Lanza was a “bad guy,” but that he did a “bad thing.” We talked some more, he had a few more questions, and try as I might, I just didn’t have a reasonable answer for why. I don’t think anyone does.
He hasn’t asked about it since, but if he does, I’m ready as I’ll ever be, which —to be honest — is not ready in the slightest. Is anyone ever fully prepared for such talks? I’ve read over the helpful links from experts and parenting pros. I look to the places that provided me with lessons as a little kid: “Sesame Street” and Mr. Rogers, both offering guidance to me today.
And in the meantime, I love the hell out of my son — much to his annoyance. “Yes, I know you love me, why do you keep telling me? Enough hugs already!” But there are never enough hugs.
So, unthinkable? No. Thinking is what I’m doing. I have a feeling that many people can’t stop thinking about it. Hopefully all the thinking will turn into action and change so we aren’t back here in another few days, weeks, months, raising our fists, fighting back tears, and holding our loved ones close because of another senseless tragedy.
Avital Norman Nathman is the blogger at The Mamafesto.