I had no intention of talking to my five-year-old daughter about the Boston Marathon. I hadn’t spoken to her at all about the grade school massacre in Connecticut in the four months since it happened. It wasn’t a reflection of some well thought out parenting philosophy—an effort to buffer my child’s psyche from the dark and disturbing. It was simply an exercise in time management—between picking Ella up from school at 4:00 and gearing down for bedtime around 7:00, she needs to snack, run madly around a playground, complete homework and eat dinner, allowing precious few moments to introduce guerilla warfare, terrorism—foreign and domestic, mortality, human physiology, mental illness, the Bill of Rights, applied forensic sciences, police states and martial law to a degree that satisfies a questioning five-year-old. I learned that the day I said, “Well, what do you know?” after seeing a newspaper headline on the subway. I spent the rest of the day explaining what I knew about face transplants and chimpanzee attacks.
But as I waited at the pizza counter on Tuesday, Ella sat down at a table and focused on the TV on the wall.
“Sit over here,” I said, delivering our slices, trying to get her to turn her back to Diane Sawyer.
She sat where I asked and twisted around to see the TV.
“C’mon, hon,” I said, “you don’t need to see the TV, just eat your dinner.”
Ella pushed her plate to the side, crossed her arms on the table top and buried her face in them.
My decision to tell Ella about the Boston Marathon was again, not the result of a parenting philosophy, but a necessity of time management. I peeked at my watch. I couldn’t afford a hunger strike—not now, not even a short one. Sure, there are ways to force-feed your child, but it doesn’t go down well in public, and it never goes down well with pizza.
“OK, you’re a big girl and I know you pay attention to things. I don’t want you to watch TV because something happened yesterday—something sad and scary. The people on TV are talking about it. It happened far away and I don’t want it to scare you.”
I had her attention. Now where to start?
“Do you know what a bomb is?”
“Do you know what an explosion is?”
“An explosion is like Pkfkfkfkfkfff…” she lifted her hands up and apart in slow motion.
“Right. Well, there was a marathon—a running race. Do you remember the big race we went to when people were running in the street? There was a race like that in Boston and somebody—someone mean and angry and sad and sick—in their head, in the way they think—made two explosions happen.”
“Baby Catherine lives in Boston,” Ella said. “Was baby Catherine in the explosion?”
“Tell me again.”
I told her again. “And a lot of people were badly hurt.”
“And did some get dead?”
“Three people died.”
“One was eight years old. The others were grown-ups.”
“It’s a good thing I wasn’t there.”
“And my daddy and my mommy.”
“Why did he make the explosions?”
“I don’t know hon.”
“Maybe because he was sick and sad he thought that if he hurt all the people and made them feel sick and sad then it would be fair.”
“It’s probably something like that,” I said. “I didn’t want to tell you, because it’s scary and sad to know there are people like that.”
“It’s not so sad for me,” she shrugged matter-of-factly. “I don’t know people like that.” She bit her pizza.
The kid behind the pizza counter lifted the remote control and flipped the channel. We turned to catch the end of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.