On Monday, my husband and I took our two kids for a spring-break day trip to Bainbridge Island. While having lunch at a diner, I noticed a TV screen adjacent to our booth screaming silent captions: “TWO BOMBS EXPLODED AT BOSTON MARATHON.” I tried to point out the news to my husband without the kids noticing, his back to the thankfully soundless TV. But eventually, given that we kept glancing up, our 6-year-old son started looking at the TV screen too.
“What happened?” he asked.
“There was an explosion in Boston, but most people are okay,” I answered quickly, hoping to nip the conversation in the bud so that his almost-4-year-old sister wouldn’t catch on. At least the 6-year-old is familiar with bad guys in comic books.
“Was it bad guys?”
How do you explain something like the bombs in Boston to young children? We tried to put it in 6-year-old terms he would undersand: There are some bad people in the world who do really mean things to others. Luckily, the affected people were okay (at that point, only injuries were being reported).
“Why did that happen?”
It was his first affronted exposure to real-world horror. For us, it was just on a TV screen — not the magnitude of terror that thousands of families (including many from Newtown, CT) attending the marathon were experiencing firsthand. Such a moment is bound to happen for our children, when innocence is perforated by a frightening event, and you as the parent cannot possibly predict or plan for it. But when that moment comes, it hurts to go through it with them. Trying to see it through their eyes brings a new level of pain.
“Did anyone die?”
His questions kept coming, some of the same ones again and again. How do I attend to his worries, while at the same time attending to my worries and managing my emotions? I thought of a few friends that were likely running in the marathon that day. I felt a pit in my stomach given my connections to Boston (growing up in Vermont with Massachusetts parents, I spent a lot of time in Boston, Back Bay and Copley Square).
As we sat there, I texted under the table to a few friends to find out the status of those running (all safe, luckily), while my husband tried to field our son’s inquiries and concern.
The same images kept repeating again and again, and our son couldn’t look away. So our discussion pivoted to the news — how most people do good things, and good things aren’t usually covered on the news. Mostly the news shows bad things to make you scared so you keep watching.
“You have to look away,” I told him.
The challenge was, I didn’t want to look away. I wanted updates, information, anything.
Soon, we left the diner. I tried to skim social media as my husband drove to the beach-front playground we had planned to go to after lunch. I caught news that blurred my eyes with tears: a tweet about runners continuing on to donate blood, a Facebook post from one friend in the race that he finished well before the detonations and was safe. Relieving news in the midst of the carnage and uncertainty. But if I shared any of it, it would likely bring up more questions We were trying the change the subject, but I was then editing out the good news in the process too.
Finally, that evening after the kids were in bed, I tuned into CNN. One of the most amazing moments was watching many run towards the blast immediately after it happened. That is courage. Would I make that same decision?
Then came the mentions of the dead and injured who were at the finish line to celebrate loved ones’ moments of victory. In an instant, those proud accomplishments were replaced by horror, chaos and fear.
“Is it going to happen here?”
Our son’s questions had turned into my question too, summoning deeper fears. What do I do as a parent — wanting to continue to run races and have the kids cheer me on at the finish line, but not being able to shake the story of Martin Richard, the 8-year-old boy who died in Boston as he waited to celebrate his dad’s completion of the marathon.
What Monday has reminded me to do is to reach out to express love. We have a group of friends who do many races together — often rotating roles of participating and running support on the sidelines. I wrote a love note of sorts to that group, which includes my brother. He wrote back:
“. . outside of the context of athletic finish lines, what happened Monday also tells us that there is also plenty of need for friendship, support, love, and cheer as we try to keep up our endurance in the race for a more peaceful and compassionate planet.”
Attacks and acts like these peel and poke at layers and layers of emotions. We can try to rise up as parents when faced with innocence lost, like 78-year-old Bill Iffrig who got up after the blast knocked him down and finished the race. There are no easy resolutions or solutions, but at least let’s talk about how we feel — scared, hoping for happy stories, wanting love and safety, yet feeling shaken.
Kimberly Larson lives in the Madison Valley neighborhood of Seattle with her husband and two children. She is a lover of cheese, a communicator for Climate Solutions, digger of dirt (garden variety), chaser of children, and dabbler in short stories/music/adventure. @kimberlyvotes