Teaching the Tougher Things

Maybe it’s because of the promise I made myself around New Year’s – that I would try harder this year to appreciate the good stuff in my life and keep perspective when I feel like whining or complaining about something that feels completely crappy to me.

Or maybe it’s because of the god-awful Haiti headlines, which remind me how frustratingly random our fates as humans are, and how maddening it is to feel so removed from the ability to help – really help – our fellow humans in need.

But for whatever reason, after loading the girls into their car seats this morning and heading out into the morning school commute, I glanced at them in the rearview mirror and practically chirped, “What a beautiful day! I feel so happy to be here on this day, so lucky to have a warm house to live in and a good breakfast in my stomach and clothes to wear!”

Maybe I drank the coffee too fast. It’s been known to happen.

But Punkernoodle 1, in all her 4-year-old wisdom, donned her philosophical conductor’s hat and jumped right on my existential train.

“Isn’t it not fair, Mommy, that some people have no houses and have to sleep in tents in the forest, and we have a nice, big house to live in?”

Why yes, babe, it is frightfully, most fucked-upedly, unfair. And then I turned up the radio.

My friend asked me later this morning, “Did you tell your kids about Haiti?”

I hadn’t thought about it, but I realized no, I haven’t told them. In fact, I think I surreptitiously slid the front page of the newspaper underneath the sports section today and yesterday, gambling that they wouldn’t notice the pictures of bodies on stretchers and children their size covered in white dust with big, dazed stares.

We talk big all the time about how we want our children to become citizens of the world and all those other cross-cultural, priviledge-fueled catch phrases. But when it comes down to it, I am still at a loss to describe that which leaves me, an adult, with a sense of despair. Because I know, from my daughters’ innocent perspectives, it makes no sense. Why do some humans suffer so, while others glide through life which few truly harsh challenges? Why is there disease, natural disaster? Why, even when we have the resources and ability to help – as with our own community’s suffering – do we seem unable to alleviate the suffering that leaves the surprisingly wise and simplistic minds of our children baffled?

I feel guilty that the upside of an event so damaging as the earthquake in Haiti is a forceful yet admittedly temporary thankfulness for what’s good in my own life and the lives of my children: health, shelter, political freedom. Yet the reminder a major disaster brings is that nothing is guaranteed. It is a truth that is easier, and more blissful, to ignore than to accept and teach our children.

So while I’m feeling both helpless and grateful in the face of disaster, I’ll thank my friend Elizabeth, who reminded me with her simple question not to shelter my children too much from the realities of the planet. I will find a way to tell them, in terms they can handle, what happened in Haiti and enlist their marvelous and empathetic minds to find a way, a tiny way, in which our little family can help the condition of our fellow humans. After all, it’s our children to whom we will hand the burdens of humanity. It’s only fair they can start thinking about it now – there’s so much work to be done.

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