Has anyone noticed that preschoolers heat everything except what you say to them directly? That point came abundantly clear the moment C asked Scott and I what we were talking about at the supper table.
The answer was Harvey Weinstein. How do you explain the sexual abuse this man has been allowed to get away with for decades simply because he has money and power to a preschooler?
The same way you tell her about the atrocity of a mass shooting or the death of a family member – human or canine.
In the last 18 months, we’ve experienced the deaths of a friend, a family dog and my grandfather. In each case, we gave C a simple explanation of what happened without any euphemisms. Even though we did encorporate heaven into the discussion, we centred our message around the basic facts: Erica/Bender/Great-Grandpa died. That happens when someone gets very sick or very old. It makes us sad, and we will miss them very much.
We oversaturate our lives with news stories. Rather than daily newspapers or hourly radio updates, we have access to live news streams giving us details as they are discovered — however relevant or salacious they may be. As a result, we centre around our screens to make sure we don’t miss a single piece of the puzzle that never fully explains the “why” of a tragedy.
After Las Vegas and Edmonton, I saw a lot of social media posts with the same theme: an adult fixates on the news, a child asks what’s going on, and the parent puts away their screen, and hugs the child. The message is usually that instead of obsessing on the depravity of today, we should cherish our children who are the hope of the future. This is an entirely valid and necessary message.
But the child’s question is never answered.
We walk a fine line between shielding our children from having to grow up too soon and preventing them from seeing the truth of the world that we live in. We think they are too innocent or naive or young to face the reality. We don’t want to burden them with sadness.
But the strangest thing happened in the days following my grandfather’s death. While there were a number of awkward breakfasts where C would asks when she was going to die, how I was going to die and whether Daddy would be invited to M’s funeral when she died, there were moments when she showed more strength and maturity than I can most days. One day before the funeral we were putting on our shoes to go to my parents and she was listing everything she was going to do there: play in the sandbox. Water Nana’s garden. Tell Grandpa (my dad) that it’s ok to be sad. These were the simple facts that made up her life.
Turns out that children are stronger than we give them credit for. So while they are these perfect capsules of hope for the future, they also deserve to know what direction that future is headed. While we don’t always go out of our way to tell C every detail of current events, we answer her questions as best we can in a way that she will understand.
So how do you explain the sexual assaults of Harvey Weinstein to a three year old? Carefully. And with broad strokes. But never by avoiding her question.