Last year, we spent the spring and summer in Berlin. My kids learned about the Holocaust and they learned about parents who sent their children away to keep them safe. At the time, I wasn’t sure how to teach them about these things, but I knew that I had to. After visiting a memorial with my children, I wrote:
My children do not yet understand how lucky they are. But they will learn. In an age appropriate fashion, we will teach our children about the children who are not as lucky as they are. That will include those suffering from famine, war, natural disasters, slavery and the most horrific human initiated violence and genocide. They will learn, so that they can help. They will learn, so that they appreciate their privilege. They will learn, so that history does not repeat itself or at least not on their watch. They will learn, so that they can demonstrate empathy and compassion, rather than the arrogant entitlement that so often accompanies privilege. They will learn because it is damn important.
A couple of months later, we spontaneously visited the German museum for television and film, which was filled with fascinating and eye catching exhibits on everything from Marlene Dietrich to the Nazi propaganda machine. Everything was going well until we entered the news room. As I was looking at one display, my five year old son was staring at a television that was showing clips from the most newsworthy events since the introduction of television. Before I realized what was happening, he was watching those airplanes flying into the World Trade Center. I can’t remember the details of the conversation that we had after that moment, but I’m sure it involved reassuring him that it wouldn’t happen again (even though I wasn’t sure that was true) and I’m sure it didn’t involve mentioning that the man in charge of that horrific event was possibly still alive (to be honest, I figured he’d been dead for a while).
Now I know he was still alive. I also know that the Americans (with the help of others) found and killed Osama Bin Laden. Do I feel like celebrating? Not really. Do I feel like this chapter of our history is closed? Not even close. Does his capture change the way I feel about terrorism or the terrorist threat facing us at all? Maybe. But when I say maybe, I mean that we could be safer or we could be in a lot more danger. We really don’t know. When I hear about people telling their kids that the world is a safer place today, I wonder: Is it really?
Talking to my kids about history is important. Teaching them about diversity and injustices and privilege is important. But purposely opening this particular can of worms and then scaring them by not being able to answer their questions is not something I want to do right now. The monsters in their closets and the stories I tell them about Stephen Harper are scary enough. So no, I won’t be talking to my kids about the death of Osama Bin Laden. For now, I’ll be staying quiet. Call it the “smart mom” approach or the “bad mom” easy way out. Either way, I’m okay with it.