It’s a moment I’ll never forget. My 5-year-old son Anders was playing with action figures on the floor of our living room while I straightened up our house. The news was on our television as background noise, a common occurrence in our home. I heard what the news anchor said, but I didn’t give it pause. I just continued arranging the throw pillows on my couch. Then Anders spoke.
“Mom, people are dead. Five people died today.” His little voice was filled with horror and shock.
I turned to look at my son and found a look of deep concern on his face, his eyes glued to the television. I grabbed the remote and turned the channel, but it didn’t matter. The reporter had already moved on to the next story. The news that five Afghanis were killed in the middle east that day was nothing more than program filler, words that often only tick across the bottom of the screen as we listen to the report of Lindsay Lohan’s latest stint in rehab, but to the little boy sitting on the floor in front of me it was a major headline.
“It’s okay, baby. That happened very far away from here,” I told him, but even as the words left my mouth I wondered why I was teaching my son that the distance between us was a good reason to feel numb to the loss of human life.
The toys Anders was playing with on that day were Batman action figures. He has been obsessed with all things super hero since his father bought him a Batcave for his second birthday. Over the last three years he has collected hundreds of figures and their accessories. One of his favorite pastimes is to set them all up in his room — the good guys on one side and the bad guys on the other — and have them fight elaborate battles while he narrates.
He also loves to watch Batman cartoons and then act out their plots. He has a chest filled with costumes, and October is not the only month of the year when you’ll find a little boy dressed as Batman running around our home. Naturally, he has taken great interest in the summer’s biggest movie, The Dark Knight Rises, starring Christian Bale as Batman.
For me, this is a firm no, but my husband waffles.
“It’s not the first or the last time he’ll see violence. He won’t even understand the adult aspects. He just wants to see the scenes of Batman. There’s not even supposed to be blood in the movie.”
I held my ground and we agreed that we would see the film first before deciding if it was appropriate for our son to watch.
This morning I turned on my television to find horrific news. Twelve people were shot to death while watching the very movie my husband and I have tickets to see tonight.
“What a senseless tragedy,” I thought as I sunk into the couch, eyes glued to the screen where I remained for over an hour flipping back and forth between CNN and MSNBC. It was with reluctance that I turned the television off when I heard Anders’ footsteps on the stairs. Since that incident a few months ago, I have taken care not to watch the news while he is in the room, and I knew the mention of Batman would draw his eyes to the screen.
I went about our morning routine, dressing the children for preschool, feeding them breakfast, checking their backpacks once then twice, but on the drive home from drop-off, alone in the car, my mind returned to the tragedy in Colorado and the horror of a gunman opening fire at random in a movie theater filled with people just looking for entertainment, the same entertainment I planned to seek that very night.
I have taken such caution to shield my son from the reality of violence. As a mother it feels like the right thing to do. Anders doesn’t need to know about the war in the Middle East or a shooting in a movie theater. What good could come from it?
Someday, someday soon even, my son will turn on the television and hear a news anchor relay a tragic story of death and violence. That story will have happened a street away, one town over, or maybe even on some far-off continent. Will he still have that same reaction he had just a few months ago regardless of the location of the victims or will he distance his emotions with every mile between the scene of loss and home? More importantly, having watched thousands of scenes of “good guys” fighting, shooting, and killing villains, will some part of him feel numb?
No parent wants their child to feel sadness, to carry the weight of the world’s suffering heavy in their heart. With this in mind, I can’t help but wonder if some deeply buried part of me — a part shoved way down beneath wishes of a joy filled life for my children — welcomes that numbness in him.
Do I want him to spend his life lamenting the evils of the world or do I want him to turn the channel, go on with his day, be happy?
The answer, I think, is somewhere in the middle, but how do I get there?
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