Update: Vote for this post on BlogHer’s Voices of the Year: http://www.blogher.com/wont-you-ring-bell-me
Parenting requires the ability to tell a good ‘little white lie’ now and then.
Little white lies that blanket the world like snowflakes, sugar-coating a sometimes scary and confusing landscape.
It’s not my strong-suit. I’m compulsively honest, you see. And my daughter, otherwise known as The Inquisitor, is the persistent sort. That’s why conversations that begin with “How are babies made?” end with “Yes, you might poop on the table,” while those that begin with “Why don’t I have a grandfather?” end with “Yes, the man who shot him probably feels really sad.”
And that’s why it’s no small miracle that she’s believed in Santa and his sidekicks, the Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny, past her eighth birthday.
But only a few weeks past: Yesterday, she informed me her friend said the Elf on the Shelf doesn’t really move by himself and that Santa isn’t real either, and asked if that was true.
Heeding our pediatrician’s advice, I tried to answer her question with a question: “What do you think?” As usual, she shot it right back at me, so I asked if she really wanted to know the truth.
She nodded yes.
After breaking the news that it was all really all me all along, I comforted her with the fact that now SHE can move the Elf and stay up late on Christmas Eve to help me wrap her little brother’s presents.
She quickly got into the holiday spirit and moved that Elf to a new shelf with great glee.
I’ll never have to move ‘Magic John‘ again! Win!
And she took a small, bittersweet, step away from childhood and toward adulthood.
Not one to leave well-enough alone, I then broke the news about our evening plans.
Last night, we were going to a vigil at a local mall to remember the two people who were shot and killed there a year ago. She knows I’ve been volunteering to help reduce gun violence, but I’ve kept the reasons a little hazy. When I started to describe that a mommy and a daddy were shot at the mall and we’re going there to support their families–and that I might have to talk to the news– she protested: “Grandma says I’m too young to know about all this scary stuff.”
I explained that the world is a wonderful place, but bad things do happen, and I’m doing my part to help make it safer.
I told her that pretending bad things don’t happen doesn’t make them go away. We have to open our eyes and then do something to make it better.
She looked me in the eye, and, with a soft smile on her face, said, “Mommy, I’m so proud of you. You do good things for our community and I love you.”
After a hug, we talked about how it’s terrible that bad things happen to little children, like when my dad died and I was only ten and my brothers and sisters were her age and younger. And we had to know what happened.
And we talked about the children who were shot at Sandy Hook a year ago Saturday.
And that their brothers and sisters and parents and friends had to know what happened.
Just a few months ago, I’d finally broken down and, in the least graphic way that I could muster, answered her questions about the poster in our carport with the pictures of 20 children and their teachers. She solemnly noted that one of the boys looked like a kid in her class. I reassured her that these things are very unusual and I’m doing my best to make sure they never happen again.
I want her to understand why I’m doing the community work that I do. Five years ago when she wanted to know about my then-job, I put it simply: I make it easier for people to quit smoking and not breathe smoke where they work. And these days, I tell her, I’m trying to make our community safer from guns.
But I wanted her to really understand why.
So we watched this video about little Emilie Parker together.
With tears streaming down my face, I held my children on either side so they could see that, yes, scary things do happen, but their mommy and so many others are not letting evil win.
Those twenty children–and the eight that are shot every day in this country by their playful siblings, friends, parents, or by their own hands–will never know the truth about Santa and the Easter Bunny. But we can still give them a gift this holiday season: the gift of remembrance and resolve.
As you gather together with your families this season, watching the snow fall, singing carols, and eating too much, please hold your loved ones a little closer.
And please, ring a bell in the name of all the children, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, and friends we have lost too young and too early.
I’ll be ringing a bell on Saturday, with my children by my side, to show that we will not be silent.
We will not hide from the truth, and we will not sugar-coat it.
We will put an end to the tremendous, terrible lie that nothing can be done to curb gun violence.
Evil will not win.