“Hey mama, do you think if you won a national handwriting contest you’d be on the news?”
(Sigh) “MAMA. Let’s say you enter a handwriting contest and you win. Would your picture be on the news? I’m doing a handwriting contest at school, and I’m worried if I win, my picture will be on the news. If a bad guy with a gun saw my picture, he could try and shoot me for my prize money!”
I wish I could write here that I just made this little exchange up. But I didn’t. This was what Boone asked me before going to bed one night, and it caught me totally and completely off guard. I stumbled through platitudes like “we live in a really safe place,” and “no one at school wants to put you in any danger.” He was tired, thankfully, and decided it was OK to participate in the handwriting contest after all.
(I didn’t point out that the winner of a national handwriting contest probably has more thoughtful penmanship than my son, who occasionally forgets the”e” at the end of his name.)
(In his defense, this is some pretty solid cursive.)
Now is where I sadly point out that this conversation about school and guns happened prior to the recent school shooting in Florida.
And so, knowing that my sensitive, anxious child would possibly hear about this tragedy within his own school, it got me thinking. I had just told him no one at school wants to put him in danger. We just said we live in a safe place. How many parents of students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School had had similar conversations? I had no idea what I’d say to Boone. I had no idea what we would talk about. I didn’t know how to alleviate fears while answering questions, to simultaneously prepare him for and shield him from the world. And it led me to the the next lie I tell myself:
As a parent, I need to have all of the answers.
Growing up, I was privileged to have not only great parents, but also a rich community of caring, invested, intelligent adults. As far as I was concerned, these people did have all of the answers. Logic would only follow that when I was an adult, I’d have all of the answers too. Even as a child, I loved answers. I craved knowledge. I couldn’t wait to have everything figured out.
Hi, I’m Jennie, I’m 33, and I have very little figured out.
So when I sat down with Boone to talk to him about the shooting in Parkland, I glossed a bit over the gory details and reminded him about what to do if he ever sees a gun (go away from it and find a grown up you trust) and if he ever encounters a stranger acting suspicious (again, grown up you trust). I also winced a bit as I talked about what he’d do if he were ever in a scary situation like that at school: listen to your teacher. Don’t tell jokes. Stay quiet and do exactly what the grownups say. He accepted all of this much easier than I thought he would. I felt pretty great about all of my answers. And then…
“Mom, what if I die?”
Oh, blow to my chest.
I said, “Everyone dies sometime. You’ll probably be very, very old. You’ll have lived a full and awesome life. You’ll be ready. And then you’ll go to Heaven! Which is the best place ever!”
“OK, cool. Well, what’s Heaven like?”
Guys, I don’t know what Heaven is like. I’ve never been there. And I could have quoted some scripture about pearly gates and streets of gold, but this is not what Boone was after. I know this because of his follow-up questions:
“And what will I do there? Will I ever come back to earth? Do you think once everybody dies, God will just start the earth over again? Will there be dinosaurs again? Can I see them from Heaven, do you think?”
I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know
A small part of me wanted to give him something concrete. I wanted to give an answer for every question, but I didn’t have an answer for every question. So I used an old teacher trick to buy some time: “what do YOU think?” Then I realized I needed to teach my son something. Something that isn’t related to the violence or the afterlife or dinosaurs.
“Hey bud… there are some things we can know the answers to. 2+2 is always 4. Our dog is a mammal. These are facts we know. And then there are other things… things nobody really knows. You can think about those things as you grow up. I don’t know what Heaven is like, exactly. But I do know that I will go there when I die, and it will be better than anything I could ever imagine. And I do know that I will always do everything in my power to keep you safe.”
And we hugged, and we moved on, and I felt halfway decent until I realized tomorrow will likely bring another crisis I don’t have answers for. And when he’s a teen, getting his heart broken? Forget about it. I don’t know anything.
And I think that’s OK. I never want to communicate to my children that we can’t know everything so we shouldn’t try. I want them to know they can be 33 and still asking questions without answers. Learning doesn’t stop when we graduate from school. And I need them to know that not knowing something? It’s never a flaw. It’s an opportunity.
Thanks for checking out this week’s lie, and aren’t you pleased to know I tell myself so many there’s another new lie for you next week?! If this resonated with you, please feel free to like, comment, or share.