It's difficult to decide how much to shelter kids from current events. I want my children to be aware of what's happening in the world yet I don't want them to know too much, too soon. I was alarmed when Mason saw the planes crash into the building on September 11 (he wasn't yet 3), not only because it was indeed a horrifying event to witness but also because it raised questions that I, the grown-up who knows everything, could not answer. Now I'm inclined to give more information - a little at a time, of course, but still coming closer to the sometimes unpleasant truth.
Because of the recent abduction stories involving older kids, I decided to revisit our 'stranger danger' rules. We have always taught that 'strangers' are people not previously met - not necessarily mean, scary, or otherwise physically identifiable. Just unknown and we don't go anywhere with them. Our brilliant karate teacher did a good job of reinforcing this (parents are always highly doubted until another trusted authority backs them up) and had them practice various get-away techniques. He made sure they understood the concept and moves without actually getting into why strangers want to take children away, and there was no discussion of what might happen if someone were actually kidnapped. With the stories of the boys in Missouri and my kids getting older, I decided we should dip further into this murky pool.
My son, blessed with my vivid imagination, cannot stop himself from believing that because we talk about something, it is going to happen. Like speaking invokes it right before our terrified eyes - "We might have a thunderstorm this weekend." "What if the lights go out? Will we be able to cook? What if we can't eat??" And so, of course, he gets stressed out with hypothetical situations. I tread so lightly into certain topics, I am actually levitating. This past week I casually started the conversation by reminding them (yes, two kids remember, but one is not nearly as excitable) that they already know what to do if strange people talk to them or try to take them away. *Whew* No panicking, yet. I then explained about the 11-year old who actually was taken and spent four years with the kidnapper, even though he had opportunities to escape. My point was to let them know what might happen if, despite their very best efforts and doing all the right things, someone did take them away. I talked about grown-ups who might tell them their parents are dead, or just don't want them anymore - brainwashing stuff. (Not me brainwashing - the kidnapper, you know). The looks of mingled puzzlement and dread were painful, but unfortunately they need to get prepared for ugliness in the world.
And this is where I am torn - telling them these facts scratches at the innocence of their childhood, when they should only be worried about wet swings at recess and who can do the best wheelies. But not telling leaves them vulnerable to the beasts who would take advantage of that innocence.
What was most interesting in this conversation was Mason's question about why somebody would want to take a child away from his family. I am so not a mental health expert - I occasionally have to slap the insensitive me who wonders why people can't just buck up & look on the bright side - but I tried to explain, in kid-speak, that some people's brains don't work quite right and they do things they shouldn't, because in their minds it seems alright. This led him to say that maybe some people are very lonely and just want some company. It was said in such a thoughtful and lovely way, I could only agree. Truthfully, my first thought was of how wicked and destructive most abductors really are. But we came to an understanding that even if their motivation is good - find friends - their action is still wrong, and they need someone to help them. Nodding heads, sober faces. Then, "What if they know they're doing something wrong but still want to do it anyway?" Well that, my darlings, is the oldest question in the book. The Book, that is. And I'm not sure what to say.
Makes me desperately look forward to answering "How are babies made?"