On a recent ski Saturday, three friends, my husband and I took five boys up Highlands Bowl. I never actually thought we would make it, expected to drop in along the ridge ” really, as soon as someone started crying. But every child, even a 5-year-old, reached the top; astonishingly, my 7-year-old, Roy, was first up, marching determinedly so far ahead that we ski carriers couldn’t see him. I fretted but never saw any little footprints sliding off sideways.
I arrived full of praise. Roy greeted me disdainfully: “What took you so long?”
All the kids had a Snickers party, and drank Gatorade, and reveled in that most still and crystalline of days. The top was packed, with some 40 people. A sweet smell wafted by, and a nearby woman joked, “Hey! Is that marijuana?!”
My kids whipped their heads around, thrilled. “Mom! Is that marijuana?”
The woman mouthed: “Sorry!”
“Uh,” I said. “It might be a wildfire.”
In many ways the hard questions first started with reading skills, and glances at my newspaper.
“Mom, what is a landfill, and why is there a body in it?” That was when I realized we should try to be more careful with news.
In the collective trauma of post-9-11, I attended a parent meeting at the Mount Sopris Montessori School.
“What,” we asked, ashen, “do we tell our children?”
The first thing the insightful teacher Sean said was: “Turn off the TV, put away the newspaper.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics, in “Caring for Your School-Age Child,”advises answering tough questions with “clear, short, straightforward explanations. Do not overwhelm your youngster with more information than she asked for.”
Answering questions in those weeks was painful, but became a chance to reassure as much as possible.
“Mama, were there passengers on those planes?”
Pause. “Yes, Teddy. I’m sorry, there were some passengers.”
“Someone said the terrorists had knives.”
“I think they did threaten people with knives. Now the airlines have better security so no one can get knives on any more.”
Last summer, when news of the Kobe Bryant case in Eagle emerged, I was asked, “What’s rape?”
“It’s … a kind of mugging.”
In November, we were idly listening to NPR in the car when the first words emerged that Michael Jackson was being charged with child molestation.”
I darted for the dial, but a voice from the back seat piped up:
“Mama, what’s child mollenation?”
Desperate pause. “Remember we told you about good touching and bad touching? Good touching is what your parents and relatives do when they hug you. Bad touching is when anyone touches your private parts, and then what do you do?”
They remembered. “Run, yell, tell!” I reiterated ruses someone might use for a “kidnapping,” and though the conversation scared them, it was useful.
Lately, I turn off the radio any time the words “University of Colorado” come up, yet was just asked again what rape is.
It was time for more. “It is forced sex. It’s wrong. It’s criminal.”
They hear things. I can only assume it’s best they get answers from us. We can pass on our own values. Years ago, Teddy, now 10, saw a Newsweek cover and asked, “What does gay mean?”
“There are a few meanings,” I hedged. “One is happy.”
He looked at me beadily. “And this meaning?”
“Well, usually a man and a woman fall in love. But sometimes men fall in love with men, and women with women. They’re gay. And they’re good people, too.”
The Academy of Pediatrics says to stop answers short, and follow up with a question, such as, “Does that answer you?”
Sometimes, though, I’m afraid the question in my mind is, “Will you buy this?”
The kids were still talking about Highlands Bowl two days later.
“Everyone up there was so nice and so happy. … Mom, was that
Alison Osius lives in Carbondale and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org (please write GSPI as subject heading).
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