explic the inexplicable


Ian, Tessa and Lucy sit at Real Food Daily, a restaurant in Santa Monica on Sunday night. It has been two days since the shootings in Newtown, CT, and the two parents had agreed to talk about it before school started the next day.

Lucy has just finished her piano recital and is making slurping noises with her straw.

TESSA: So, sweetie, we wanted to talk to you about something that happened in the news-

IAN: -before you hear anything about it at school.

LUCY: Was it a really bad thing?


LUCY: Was it about someone who had guns and stuff and killed a lot of people?

Ian and Tessa glance at each other with a “what the fuck? how the hell-” look

IAN: Wait, you know about it already?

LUCY: Yes.

TESSA: How? Did somebody say something at the party yesterday?

LUCY (nonchalantly): Yeah. CeeCee said that someone started shooting everyone with a gun and there were kids and it was just awful.

Ian and Tessa glance at each other again, now with a “this is EXACTLY what we were trying to avoid” look

TESSA: What else did she say?

LUCY: That’s it. What really happened?

TESSA: Well, a 20-year-old guy went into a school, and started shooting people.

LUCY: Were there kids?

TESSA (solemnly): Yes.

LUCY: What happened to the guy?

TESSA: He died.

LUCY: The police shot him?

IAN: He shot himself before they could.

Ian immediately regrets this slightly, as they have purposely not covered suicide in the List of Things People Do.

LUCY: Were the kids older or younger?

IAN: Than you?

TESSA: A little bit younger.

Both parents know this to be only barely true.

LUCY: If he had come into our school with those guns, someone would have tackled him down.

TESSA: That’s right, sweetie.

LUCY: We would have seen that he was a stranger, and hidden away where he couldn’t find anybody.

TESSA: Absolutely.

IAN: That would be a great plan.

LUCY: Why did he do it?

TESSA (pause): He was – not right. He was an upset guy. He wasn’t normal and didn’t see the world the right way.

IAN: But the important thing is this – we wanted to tell you what happened. Any information you get from someone in class-

TESSA: -or at recess…

IAN: …or at recess-

TESSA: Because you might discuss it in class, with the teachers, and that’s okay.

IAN: Right. But when these things happen, there’s always a lot of rumors and we want you to come to us if there’s anything you want to know.

Lucy looks out the window, makes more noise with her straw.

IAN: The three of us, we’ve lived through history, right? Some pieces of history have been great, like when we all went to Washington D.C. to see Barack Obama become President. Some things were hard to understand, like when they captured Osama bin Laden.

LUCY: Obama and Osama sound the same. Obama. Osama. It’s only one letter different.

TESSA: That’s true.

IAN: But this is a really bad bit of history. There’s all kinds of history, and when we can tell you, we want you to know what’s going on.

LUCY: Yeah.

IAN: Here are two important things to know about what happened in Connecticut. Number one-

LUCY: Number one is guns are horrible and awful and terrible and they should all be destroyed forever.

IAN (pause): Okay, so make that three things. You thought of the first. But the second thing to know is that events like this are really, really rare.

TESSA: It’s not something you need to worry about.

IAN: It’s like “supernova in the sky” rare. (pause) The third thing is this… this event might actually make the country change for the better. We might get to make new laws.

TESSA: Barack Obama even got on TV and said that something like this should never happen again.

IAN: So now we can pass some laws that will make it so it never happens again.

Both Tessa and Ian know that “never” is impossible, but a tragedy this horrible needs some closure, some sense that this kind of madness is finite

TESSA: How are you feeling, sweetie?

LUCY: Good. But I have a question.

TESSA: What is it, my darling girl?

Lucy takes a long, long pause.

LUCY: Are we getting dessert?

Ian and Tessa glance at each other with a look they’ve employed hundreds of times over the last seven years: “well, that’s about the best we can do here for now.”



14 thoughts on “explic the inexplicable

  1. SWF

    Two things:
    1 – We had a very similar experience. Thinking that we had sufficiently shielded our son, James, from the news, we planned to talk about this on Sunday once we understood more of the facts. But on Saturday night, in the middle of dinner, he turned to us and asked “Did you guys hear about the school shooting in Connecticut?” The rest of the conversation thematically tracked the conversation you had with Lucy – right down to the look at the end. There was also a realization (which I think you had as well) that we have a pretty well adjusted kids on our hands. Which is cool.
    2- My wife, who volunteers in the school a fair amount, had learned of a National PTA effort to have school children make paper snowflakes to send to the new school that the children will attend in January. She planned to have our son’s class (3rd grade) take this on as their winter craft on the last day of school before the winter break. Awesome, right?
    No, of course not. At least one parent has emailed expressing concern (well, more like shock) that we would be introducing this topic into the school! She was working so hard (and she said there were other parents doing the same) to completely shield their child from this news and NEVER EVER wanted them to find out.
    Not to get all side-tracked in the middle of an excellent discussion about gun control (or, as my PR friend explained, the terminology is now “massacre avoidance”), but WTF? There is a thin line between shielding your children from awful events and creating a bubble around them creates a false reality. I fear this act is the first in a series that will actually cause harm, not good. To me, it does not seem healthy or wise. If feels like the beginning of a serious helicopter parent interfering with the growth and maturity of a child. But maybe that’s just me?

  2. LFMD

    Between the CT shootings and Hurricane Sandy, I think it is safe to say that this has been the worst November/December I can remember.
    I am strangely grateful of this: my daughter is 13 1/2 years old. She was just over 2 years old on 9/11, so there was no need to discuss the WTC attacks with her at that time. And now, she has a teenage level of maturity so that discussing the CT shootings has not been as difficult as discussing it with a younger child.

  3. Julie

    We have never been a family that shies away from national events be them good or bad. But I was taken aback when, after we explained what had happened, our older son (10 years old) said, very non-plussed, that there are five security guards with guns and pepper spray that roam the elementary school on a daily basis. He described each one of them and knows one by name. I don’t know if these five are for the entire campus (all three are connected) or just the elementary level but the comment made me both happy and sad. Happy that we have administrators that change with the times and so obviously care for the children that go there but sad in the loss of innocence and that my kids don’t even give it a second thought that the men are there.

  4. MJ Dunnington

    We decided not to have this conversation with our first grader. I regretted it briefly Sunday night, but an email exchange with her teacher reassured me that she was prepared to talk with the kids if it came up, and that she’d let us know if the kids were talking about it. So far C hasn’t mentioned it at all (or seemed upset about anything), and if it doesn’t make it to a level of significance on her radar, I will feel lucky and grateful.

  5. SWF

    It’s clearly a judgment call on when and how to discuss. But to insist that a whole class not participate in a healing activity showing support for the kids in Newtown because you want your child to never be aware of this?
    My point – they will hear about it. It is inevitable. You can choose to control the exposure or you can leave it to fate. What you cannot do is control the rest of the world, and attempts to do so are futile!
    To emphasize – less about the decision to talk about it, more about the attempt to control the rest of the world. The former – parental discretion; the later – pure folly.

  6. Neva

    I think something as big as this deserves to be discussed at home so at least you can control a little bit of the message they get. At what age to start? Not sure, but probably any kid who is school age may hear about it so I think that’s where I might start.
    Anyway, reminds me of talking to your kids about sex. They probably know things about it all already but if you don’t discuss it you never know if they’ve heard what YOU want them to hear instead of just other people’s interpretation/ideas. Waiting until you feel comfortable or ready means you’ll never do it!

  7. neva

    And, Anon, I totally respect your decision not to talk about it with your kindergartener. I might do that as well. My husband was diagnosed with lymphoma when my daughter was in kindergarten and we never told her. 6 years after treatment he is fine and she missed all that worrying so I am so glad we made that decision. Some people thought we were crazy not to talk about it. He never lost his hair or got sick with his treatment so it was fairly easy to not tell but it’s hard to know what is right in these situations.
    For SWF’s situation third grade seems too old to hold back this information because they are so likely to hear it elsewhere but again, it’s a judgment call..

  8. SWF

    I was struggling with the K versus 3rd grade issue myself. It’s only 3 years – but there is a gulf of difference in maturity and awareness. I can’t criticize Anon for not wanting to traumatize her kindergartner. As you say, it’s a judgement call.
    Continue to love this community.

  9. John Galt

    It’s more than a little creepy that Lucy’s first reaction is that guns are bad, and that you’re training her to assume the government can take steps to make things like the CT shooting never happen. All we need is more laws, then the world will be perfect… Right. How’s that working out for us so far?


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