The Tragedy in Paris and the conversation is sparked with my 7 year old son about religion, safety and fear.
I would like to preface this article with two things. I am pro-gun (I own one, I know how to use it and I carry it – legally) and I love Jesus. If either of these things bother you, you might not want to read this post.
BigG just turned 7. Some days he acts like a silly 5 year old and some days his maturity amazes me. We’ve talked about “stranger danger” and “tricky people“, fire safety, tornado safety and things like that. But a while back I was reading an article online about schools having “active shooter” drills. And I thought, “Thank you, Jesus, that we homeschool and my kindergartner doesn’t have to sit through an active shooter drill in school!”
But the article I was reading was talking about how an “active shooter” situation can happen anywhere – the park, the grocery store – and that’s just the world we live in now. And I thought, you know, we need to have a conversation about this. But I put it off. Because BigG can be sensitive sometimes…and worry himself to death over the worse case scenario (like the time he cried for an hour after we talked about fire safety and he was afraid the house was going to catch on fire and he wouldn’t be able to save his favorite stuffed dog.)
So last night I’m reading about Paris. And I thought, you know, we NEED to have this conversation. Part of me wanted to just go about our day today and not say anything to BigG about it and let him live in his oblivious little bubble. I was almost twice his age when my oblivious bubble burst – I was unaware of this level of evil in the world until the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995. I was 11. Of course I knew of wars in the past….but that was past. I thought the world was sunshine and rainbows now. Until Oklahoma City. Then there was Columbine. And 9/11. And then, in BigG’s lifetime, there have been so many of these “events” that I can’t even keep up with them anymore. More in the last 1/4th of my life than in the first 3/4ths.
So just because of the sheer volume of these events and the nature of the world we live in today, I decided that 7 years old was okay to learn that the world is NOT sunshine and rainbows. And that this was a good situation to use to spark a conversation I knew we needed to have.
So today, we were going across town and I decided to utilize the drive because I knew I had his undivided attention. And I said, “I need to tell you something. Something really bad happened yesterday in Paris.”
“What happened, Mommy?”
“Well, you know how there are people around the world that don’t like us? They don’t like people who live in a free country and they don’t like Christians?” He nodded. “Well, some of these people hurt a lot of people in Paris yesterday.”
“Well, I’m glad those people aren’t here.”
“I know, baby. But that’s the problem – those people can be anywhere. See, there are these people, Muslims, and their religion is Islam…”
“Religion is your beliefs. Like Christian, that’s our religion. We are American, because we were born here. We are Irish because our ancestors were. Those things can’t be changed. But religion – your beliefs – are a choice. These Muslims, that follow Islam, believe in a false god. You know, like we’ve talked about in history. Like the Egyptians…”
“And the Greeks.”
“Right. They have a made up god. And a long time ago, someone wrote a book, like our Bible, that is full of things their false god wants them to do – which is all lies. But these people believe those lies – and one of those lies is that if you don’t have the SAME beliefs as them then you deserve to die – and that they can kill you and it’s okay.”
“That makes God unhappy.”
“Yes, it sure does. But there is bad in the world. And sometimes it can get very bad. Like it did in Paris yesterday. And it all comes from people who don’t have the love of Jesus in their hearts.”
I paused here to gauge where we were. His maturity level was on the high side today so he was taking it in.
“Is that what you wanted to tell me, Mommy?”
“Well, that was part of it. I said all that because I wanted to make sure you know that Mommy will always do whatever I can to protect you.” I reached down between the van seats and lifted my .38 revolver out of my purse and said, “You know why I have this don’t you?”
“To get the bad guys.”
“Yes. If I ever feel like I need to use this, I will. But there is something I need you to help me with.”
“If we are ever out, at the park, the store, anywhere, and I tell you something that sounds funny. Like ‘lie down on the ground’, ‘hide in here’, ‘get under that table’ – those sound funny don’t they?” He nodded. “I would never say these things just to be funny. If I say something like this, I need you to DO it. Right away. And without asking why. Does that make sense?”
He thought of something funny I might tell him today and it made him laugh. I let him have the light moment.
But then I said, “I know you like to ask why. But can you promise me that if I ask you to do something that doesn’t sound like something we would do (like hiding in the grocery store), that you’ll do it? No arguing, no asking questions. Just do.”
“I can do that, Mommy.”
“Thank you. I just want to keep you safe. That’s my job. And I don’t want you to be scared. If we are ever in a dangerous situation, being scared won’t help. But being smart will help. And I want you know how to be smart. And right now, the smartest thing you can do is listen to exactly what I say and do it.”
And then I used a couple examples that I knew he would relate to. One is from his karate class, where his instructor has talked several times about being uncomfortable with how someone has approached you – they’re too close or they look threatening – this is when you use your knowledge of karate to your advantage. I told him that was an example of being SMART not scared in a bad situation.
Then I used another example from when we went to the zoo just last week. It was late in the day close to closing, on a Tuesday, which isn’t a big day for the zoo anyway, so it was a ghost town. We were in the primate building and there was a man in there also. And he was following us, chatting with us about the monkeys. But every time we would leave one area and walk to the next he was right behind us. And he was too close. In a room with a 30 foot wide window for watching the orangutans, there was no reason for him to be 2 feet away from me. None at all. So I casually rushed G from one room to the next until we got to the end and then I leaned down and said, “Bathroom. NOW.” There are restrooms just outside the exit of the primate building – they are outside the building and face the main walkway through the zoo – I felt better once we got in the open but I didn’t want this man thinking he could stay on our heels through the rest of the zoo. So I diverted G to the bathroom. When we got in there he said, “I don’t need to go.” I said I don’t either but I explained to him that I was uncomfortable about that man following us and I wanted to get away. It turns out this event was a PERFECT example to use in our conversation today.
He asked, “Were you afraid of that man?”
“No, I wasn’t afraid. But I was…cautious. And smart. I could have been afraid. But that wouldn’t have helped. Sometimes we have to take our fear and turn it into caution and smarts. Does that makes sense?”
“Like being brave. Being brave is using your smarts.”
“Exactly. Brave is the opposite of afraid.”
“Mommy, I’m glad you keep me safe.”
With that I felt like our conversation was complete and productive. Not ended – because I know the topic will come up again – and it needs to – just like the discussions about tricky people and safety when we are in crowded places reoccur in small bursts here and there.
How much do your kids understand what’s going on in the world? What kinds of conversations have you had with your kids about these kinds of dangers? Do you need to have a conversation?