We had a blizzard last weekend, dropping almost two feet of snow in just one day. It’s everywhere, thick and sticky – a mess, yes, and too late in the season to actually be welcomed – but it’s great for building. Eva and I decided to explore the architecture of igloos this week for our science study. We spent three afternoons packing snow into a plastic container to make ice bricks, stacking, and packing loose material in between to serve as mortar.
I knew I had to tell her and Ian about Boston, just like I had to tell them about Sandy Hook Elementary earlier in the year. You can’t not tell kids things like that these days; even if you wanted to shield them, they live in the Age of Information. They will hear it from their friends, teachers, or social media. When events like Boston happen, it’s never a matter of if I’m going to talk to the kids about it, but when. I want to be the one who shares troubling information with my children first. I don’t want them to learn about it through rumor and conjecture.
Eva and I were in our snowpants, and she had cleared the floor of the igloo. I was making the snow bricks and handing them over to her. Stack, pack, smooth, pack pack pack. First row done, we moved to the second, spacing the bricks so they overlapped for strength. I bided my time. Pat, pat, pat. “I have something sad to tell you, Eva.” The brightness of the day – the sun, the clarity of the snow, the cold on my cheeks, the activity of the igloo – makes this feel safer. “Uh-oh,” she says. “A couple of bombs went off in Boston yesterday,” I tell her. “A lot of people were injured, and three were killed.”
She listened as I filled in the details for her – about the race, about the timing of the bomb, about the identity of the people who had died. We smoothed in the bricks as I talked, focusing our eyes on the snow and the walls of the progressing house. What kind of house will I help her build here? Once I gave her the basic gist, I told her all the amazing stories of heroism that day. How the runners had kept running to the hospital after they crossed the marathon finish line so they could donate their blood to help the victims of the blasts. How people ran towards the bombings to help instead of fleeing in fear and self-preservation. I told her about the 78-year old first-time marathoner who was knocked over by the shock waves of the bomb just a few feet from the finish line, and how he got back up and walked to its end, refusing to be defeated.
In fact, there were so many positive stories, most of our conversation turned around themes of courage and empathy, and though the event is tragic and frightening, it served as an example of the enormous amount of good in the world. We kept building, and talked about the power of human compassion.
The next day, Ian joined us, helping us make more bricks. The walls were coming along steadily now – we were about half-way up. I checked in with him about his knowledge of Boston. Too late – of course he had already heard about it. But interestingly, he was just as aware of the acts of bravery as I had been. He already knew about the blood donors, about how people ran towards the blast to help. The conversation – again – was more about the beauty in the wreckage than the wreckage itself.
What kind of world will we build together? This story should be told – has to be told. But it’s up to us to choose the perspective of how we will engage with it. Instead of feeling traumatized and hopeless, the kids and I all went away feeling saddened, yes, but also reassured by the immense courage of the people who put their concerns of personal safety aside so they could help folks who needed it. I want my kids to be empowered. I do not want to shelter them from the horrors of the world; instead I want them to know they have the strength to deal with what’s out there, and the ability to turn adversity into a thing of beauty.
Once Eva finished the last block of her igloo, I gave her some spray bottles filled with food coloring, and invited her to decorate her cozy new home. She painted spring flowers on the outside of her house, covered the floor with green “grass,” added a sun to the cone-shaped ceiling. Winter might be firmly in our midst, but spring will, in the end, win out.