We’ve had several difficult conversations in our house since the Orlando massacre earlier this month. Usually we shield the kids from the news after these events, and especially from our own emotional conversations about the senselessness of such tragedy.
After this most recent mass shooting, we did not intend to share with our children what happened and why, and we certainly did not intend to share with them the reliability with which it will happen again.
That seemed like way too much for our kids.
And way too much for us.
Falmouth held a vigil last week to honor the victims and survivors of Orlando, and to comfort those in our own community who are grieving–and stewing–over the tragedy.
We didn’t give it a second thought–we were going.
As we walked toward the village green, the kids immediately noticed the rainbow flags. They were hard to miss: they were flowing so elegantly in the wind, and the rainbow was–as it always has been–a striking symbol of beauty. The kids didn’t know what a vigil was, but I think the rainbow flags gave the impression that there would be cotton candy, games, and water balloons up ahead.
As the kids’ excitement for the vigil increased, my reluctance did too.
What on Earth were we doing? What were we going to say to them?
We haven’t been explicit with our kids about LGBTQ issues either; we weren’t sure we had to be, quite frankly. Whenever a friend or family member gets engaged, Millie asks, “Is he marrying a boy, or a girl?”, as if it’s no big deal.
And in fact, it shouldn’t be a big deal.
Matt and I high-five ourselves each time she asks this, acknowledging–first–the great strides in our society to be more accepting and tolerant of others, and–second–our stellar parenting.
Parenting victories are so few and far between.
It became clear on the 5-minute walk to the vigil that we couldn’t not mention the purpose of the flags, or the purpose of the vigil; it also became clear that it was our duty as parents to share with them the hate that gets hurled toward people who don’t fit into the binary box of sexuality or gender.
So, in those 5 minutes, we tried to give our kids a sanitized primer on Orlando, if there is such a thing:
Me: A lot of people in Orlando died.
Me: Someone with a gun killed them.
Millie: Wait. Why?
Me: Because they were boys who like boys, or girls who like girls.
Millie: Oh. Is it dangerous to be a boy who likes boys?
Me: Actually, yes. It is.
Millie: So why are we having a vigil?
Me: So people know that we love other people, and it doesn’t matter if they’re a boy who loves a boy or a girl who loves a girl; we love them no matter what. And we don’t want people to have guns that kill lots and lots of people. So something like this never, ever happens again.
Millie: But, Mommy, why would this ever happen again?
There is a long, complicated response to Millie’s question that must seem absurd through the lens of a 6-year-old.
Should I tell her about political gridlock and campaign finance? Should I tell her about capitalism and gun manufacturers’ profit margins? Should I tell her about the Second Amendment and the NRA? Should I tell her about Newtown and Columbine? Virginia Tech and Umpqua Community College? Charleston, Aurora and San Bernardino?
Or should I tell her the simple truth:
There is not enough love and compassion for others in this world, honey.
And until there is, it will probably happen again.