Scott was reading the paper on Monday morning and pointed out that something like 66% of all viewers who watched the Olympics this year cried at some point during the coverage, and that 25% of them were men (there are lots of other stats associated with Olympic-watching, if you're interested); the article didn't specify whether or not the crying was all-out sobbing, or the tears-welling-up-in-your-eyes variety. I myself felt my eyes burn with tears at the very beginning of the coverage, when I heard about the death of Georgian athlete Nodar Kumaritashvili. Because no matter how heart-wrenching all the other personal stories and glimpses into the athletes' lives were, there was nothing as tragic for me as his sudden death. But even just as the news broke, the networks tried frantically to write a better ending to it, to talk about the nobility in dying while doing what you dream about, what you love best--it was a desperate attempt, but a human one, too.
L. heard a snippet about the accident when we were watching opening coverage back in February.
"What happened?" he asked, as we rushed to change channels (it was appalling to me that some stations found it newsworthy to keep replaying the footage of his crash).
My instinct, as it has been for many years, was to avoid the topic; to redirect his question, or downplay what happened. But I have learned, as L. has grown older and more capable of processing the concepts of life and death, that we have to talk about these things, no matter how we might squirm and shy away inside.
We want to shield our kids from the reality of a world in which random accidents can happen, in the blink of an eye; or where bad, senseless things can happen to good people.
A wise therapist once told us that there are three emotions that kids really need to experience: disappointment, loss, and boredom. While we, as parents, never want our children to experience any of these--especially loss--kids need to work through these emotions so they learn how to cope, how to move through them to the other side. Some kids are more ready to process these emotions earlier than others, they are emotionally more resilient, able to gain perspective more quickly. Looking back, I know we shielded L. from all three of those necessary emotions as best we could for a long time, but I also think we instinctively knew he had trouble navigating all of this; that emotions were extra frightening, and confusing, and that we needed to be a little more careful, and little more protective on his behalf.
Last weekend I found this book at our flea market and, excited for T., I bought it and brought it home. We were two chapters into it before I had the foresight to look ahead in the book and saw that the main character Kirsten's friend, Marta, dies of cholera. And, because I was so caught up in the book, I couldn't help but say oh no! out loud to myself while I flipped through the pages, quickly reading the heartbreaking chapter to myself while T. lay beside me in her bed.
"What is is?" T. asked.
While learning how to process loss might be important for our children, you do always have to weigh what's age-appropriate and what isn't, and T., at six, just isn't ready for that. I told her we'd skip the chapter, because something sad happens.
Her eyes filled with tears, at just the thought of it. "Why did the writer write something sad in the book?" T. asked, in between sniffles.
"Because it's part of the story," I told her. "And sometimes sad things happen in stories, just like they do in real life."
T. thought about this for a moment, then she crossed her arms over her chest, protectively, or stubbornly, perhaps. "I want to hear the sad part," she said. "I want to hear the happy parts and the sad parts, too."
And I realized then that there's a line that gets crossed at a certain point in every child's life, when they move from the colorful, safe, happy stories of early childhood into stories that do more to mirror real life, with all its inexplicable twists and turns and sad endings, and necessary (and unnecessary) losses. We need to take the sad stories with the good ones; we need to laugh, but we need to cry, too.