A conversation with the kids about Paris
Ollie and I were playing Legos when Kendall walked in. “Did you hear about Paris?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said. “It’s scary, huh?”.
“Yeah,” she said, “I don’t know why the tourists would do that.”
Tourists? Oh. I quickly explained that tourists and terrorists are very different things, trying to find words to describe terrorism that were somewhat appropriate for Ollie’s 5 year old ears. We talked for a couple more minutes about the attacks, with most of the questions centering on whether something like that could happen to us, in Mankato.
“No,” I told them, “Mankato wouldn’t be a place terrorists would attack.” Thank God I could truthfully say that.
* * *
The next afternoon when I picked Ollie up from school, he reported on his day as he always does, a steady stream of chatter that sometimes lasts all the way home. This day’s report was brief, and then it was on to playing pretend.
“What kind of dragon to you want to be, Mom? You can either be the Plasma Dragon or the Pure Terrorist Dragon.”
Whoa. “Did you say terrorist dragon?”
“Yeah, Pure Terrorist.”
“Honey, terrorists are really bad guys and we don’t pretend to be them. They hurt people and that’s not something we want to play.”
“I know, Mom.” You could almost hear his eyes rolling. “I don’t mean that kind of terrorist. I mean, terror-est, like really, really scary.”
Oh. I didn’t know what to say.
* * *
What do we say to our children about terrorism, about what happened in Paris on Friday, or what happens daily in Iraq and Syria? Too often, we say nothing. I say nothing, because I want to protect my kids from the worst in the world.
But, they are hearing these stories and words like terrorism and ISIS, especially when they are old enough to be on social media. So, we’ve got to talk. And I’m going to start simple.
When we’re coloring pictures of people, I’ll ask if my son wants to use a crayon other than peach for skin tone, and talk about the friends in his classroom who have brown skin. When we talk about faith, I’ll remind the kids that there are others than Christian, and we have a lot in common with those others. When they ask me questions, I’ll answer as fully and honestly as I can.
And I’ll start with myself on the not-so-simple stuff. I’ll try to spend more time in conversation with Muslims in Mankato, many of whom came to Minnesota as refugees. I’ll preach and teach about compassion and radical hospitality, which pervades the Scriptures that are holy to me. I’ll support with my money and volunteer advocacy organizations like Lutheran Immigrant and Refugee Services, who are on the front lines of crisis. I’ll continue to work for greater justice and peace in my town, my state, my nation and my world.
And maybe by starting on these small things, Ollie will someday live in a world were the only terrorists are those in his worlds of imaginary play.