Last week my daughter had her best friend and her best friend’s little sister over for an afterschool playdate. Our apartment, though organized and cute, is so tiny that we don’t have people over very often, so my daughter was a bit of a cokehead about the whole thing. The girls dressed up in every single costume piece we own, laid every single book out on the floor and played with all of the toys at once. At one point, in the midst of her excitement, my 6-year-old exclaimed, “Hey, I’ve got a Titanic book here if anyone is interested!”
Her friends looked at her with charmed but incredulous faces and remained politely silent. Even in first grade, girls can smell dorkdom, and thank god my kid’s BF is sweet enough to let her be one such geek without making her feel bad about it. In the wake of that pregnant pause, my daughter cried gleefully, “Come on! Isn’t anyone interested in history here?!”
My daughter is obsessed with the Titanic. She loves reading about the cast of characters that were on board and how they reacted while the boat was sinking. She admires the ship’s designer — Thomas Andrews (duh, Mom! how come you always forget his name?) — and how he stayed on board his beloved Queen of the Ocean. She’s fascinated by how big the ship was, why it sunk, and most importantly, I suppose, how many people died.
I’ve talked to my daughter about 9/11. I’ve told her about Hitler and World War II (thank you, The Sound of Music). My daughter loves hearing about things that I experienced before she was born or newsworthy events that take place in an adults-only world, so I recently told her the story of Captain “Sully” Sullenberger’s heroic water landing, an event so awesome my friend MC Mr. Napkins wrote a song about it. (Seriously click that link and have your mind blown by a guy who’s throwin’ animal metaphors all up in this piece about geese.)
But I haven’t yet made my daughter privy to the news of the Costa Concordia tragedy, mostly because I only had a chance to look into it for the first time last night. Danielle Sullivan wrote a great piece on Strollerderby today about the sunken cruiser and its captain who abandoned ship to save his own life over the lives of its passengers. With 11 dead and 22 missing, the Costa Concordia tragedy isn’t nearly as disturbing as the sinking of the Titanic, which killed over 1500 people. The Australian revealed yesterday that Costa Concordia captain Francesco Schettino said in a 2010 interview, “I wouldn’t like to be in the role of the captain of the Titanic, having to sail in an ocean of icebergs. But I think that thanks to preparation, you can handle any situation and deal with potential problems. Passenger security is paramount.”
Also released yesterday is the transcript of a phone call between Schettino and Italian Coast Guard Capt. Gregorio De Falco that took place after Schettino had jumped ship. During the call, the rogue captain said, “I am here with the rescue boats. I am here. I am not going anywhere. I am here. I am here to coordinate the rescue.” De Falco ordered Schettino to go back aboard the Concordia, but Schettino refused. He is currently under house arrest for abandoning ship. According to CBS, it’s expected that Schettino will face manslaughter charges.
Schettino not only left thousands of people to die, but he says he “was trying to get people to get into the boats in an orderly fashion” when he “tripped and … ended up in one of the boats.” He told a judge Tuesday, “That’s how I found myself in the lifeboat.”
It doesn’t surprise me that such a coward would also be a liar, but the question remains: should I share that fact with my daughter? Does teaching our kids about disaster prepare them to handle it? Or should we be afraid to overwhelm our children? Should we worry that teaching them about evil or cowardly deeds will influence them negatively, or is being honest about these things helpful knowing that the truth is there are bad people everywhere? My daughter says nothing scares her, so I’m not worried about her becoming afraid of drowning (or of planes crashing, etc.), but ultimately I don’t know how to explain bad things to her. Because in explaining how it is that bad things happen, we often find ourselves trying to explain why people make bad or selfish choices, and that’s a much harder thing to understand and relay.