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In the Whirled: How to raise kids in a time of terror

Published: Wednesday, April 24 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

A flag flies over the finish line as medical workers aid injured people following an explosion at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. Two explosions shattered the euphoria at the finish line, sending authorities out on the course to carry off the injured while the stragglers were rerouted away from the smoking site of the blasts.

Charles Krupa, ASSOCIATED PRESS

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I received a text last week from my running partner in late afternoon. It said, “Bombings at the Boston Marathon.”

My kids were in the room and heard my reaction. “What’s wrong, Mom?” they asked. “What happened?”

We got online and read the story together. We did not turn on the television.

I climbed into bed that evening, wishing for a different world in which to raise my children, one free from war and violence, hate and hurt. At times it feels like raising lambs in a pit of lions.

More than anything, I struggle with how much of the world to share with my children. Do they need to know about the warfare across the globe, about slums with raw sewage, about human trafficking?

I have a son with chronic bad dreams. Does he need to know that even when he’s awake terrible things are happening throughout the world?

I always err on the side of caution. When the shootings happened in Newtown, Conn., my husband and I discussed whether or not to tell our kids. We chose not to tell them. But now they hear references to the shooting, and they want to know what happened. How much detail do I share?

We are not a TV-watching family, so we are spared the nightly news. We do get a daily paper, and more and more I find myself flipping it upside down or stashing it away altogether. I don’t want my children’s first image of the day to be police tape and a headline about murder on the east side.

Am I sheltering my kids? Absolutely. Are they growing up with a starry-eyed vision of the world? Yes. They know about danger and unrest on the periphery, but we are lucky to live in a low-crime suburb and attend a small school. The biggest source of worry in our neighborhood is whether they’ll fix the massive potholes that spring up after a long Minnesota winter.

Yet as a journalist, I have a passion for keeping my family connected to world events. I don’t want my kids to be those kids, the ones who can name all the X-Men characters but can’t find Egypt on the map. When they complain about asparagus for dinner, I want them to know there are places in the world where fresh produce is a luxury.

I want thinkers and activists, children who care more about creating positive change and less about their score on Temple Run. I want them to have gratitude for clean water, a fridge stocked with food and thick-soled shoes on their feet. And as a mother who is very much about peace, I want them to know that violence of any kind only creates devastating sorrow.

But here on the ground, I still think life should be about everyday joy and pleasure. Success at the science fair. A song mastered on the piano. The slow greening of the grass. The return of the ducks and geese to the nearby lakes. My youngest son wants to go on a walk and hunt for new life: earthworms and bird nests and soft-bodied caterpillars. At the end of a brutal winter, every sign of renewal brings with it a small rejoicing.

This too is my job as a parent. As with so many things, I am still learning what kind of information to feed my kids, when to serve them milk and when to serve them meat. They are so young, too young for global terror.

The tragedy, of course, is that we are all too young for global terror. In teaching our children, we can also learn from them: to find glimmers of hope in a world that at times, because of a few people, seems to go dark.

Tiffany Gee Lewis lives in St. Paul, Minn., and is the mother of four boys. She blogs at thetiffanywindow.wordpress.com. Her email is tiffanyelewis@gmail.com

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