December 31, 2004

does he have to know?

People are saying the tsunami is the largest natural disaster in a lifetime. It still shocks me. I still find myself wondering how I can ingest it while knowing I can't. But today I started mulling another question: should we tell Damian about it? Do we have a moral obligation to do so? This is that kind of event, one with reverberations through the year and even decades. Should we give him some sense of what's going on now, whether in pictures or just words, so it can be part of his personal history and he has a frame of reference for it in the future? Is this part of being a responsible parent?

But I don't want to show him photographs of faces twisted in agonized mourning or walls of photographs of the dead. He's six years old, does he need to see that? And we live in earthquake country. A tsunami is just as possible here. His old preschool is just blocks from the beach. And if we talked about what happened around the other side of the world, we'd want to make it real for him, and that means talking about earthquakes under water and tidal waves devastating Santa Monica, doesn't it? And that may mean nightmares and inchoate fears and free floating anxiety as he stays away from the beach and worries about walking on the Third Street Promenade. When is real enough too real to a child with an acute imagination?

We don’t watch TV news, we don't get the physical newsprint delivered to our door every day. We read the paper online and so Damian isn't exposed to a daily image of carnage; instead, it's our choice. And because this is in fact on the other side of the world, people aren't talking much about it here; it doesn’t come up during daily chitchat in the grocery store, may not come up when his teacher greets the kids back to school in a week, may not even come up tomorrow over scones and bagels during our now-annual New Year's brunch. And there's no reason it should: it's not part of the fabric of our lives. We can mourn from afar, we can send money and imagine – or try to imagine – what it's like there, but it's not a reality here, is unlikely to personally affect anyone we know. And in that sense, we don't need to tell Damian about it. He doesn’t need that knowledge.

Or does he?

Posted by Tamar at December 31, 2004 12:34 PM

I don't think it's really necessary to tell him. He's really too young to be able to fully comprehend it - at least, the 6 year olds I know are... and it may cause him more anxiety than a 6 year old should have to contend with.

Posted by: nuala` at December 31, 2004 02:15 PM

I don't see any reason to give him that sort of information when he's that young; I truly believe it would only serve to scare him and make him apprehensive about whether or not he's going to be safe, whether you and Dan will be safe, what's to keep that from happening there, etc. His feeling of security could easily be undermined and frankly, it will do him no real good. Would you tell him about all of the murders that happen right there in L.A.? Or about someone's building burning down, when he doesn't know those people?

When he's older, he'll either read about it or hear about it, and he'll be able to form his own point of reference. Right now, what he needs most is to feel like his world is safe for him so that his own peace of mind isn't harmed. There's plenty enough time in his life for him to be an eyewitness to other tragedies, when he's older and can deal with it more.

Posted by: toni at December 31, 2004 11:56 PM