Terrorism and 1st Graders

Ugh. This parenting thing really sucks sometimes.

I was in the living room today watching the President talk about the attempted Christmas Day terrorist attack. My 6-year old son was playing Legos and my 4-year old daughter Webkinz. Neither seemed to be paying much attention.

I should have known better.

CNN flashed images of terrorists training in some far off land, and my son said “Who are those guys? What are they doing?”

And instead of my usual parental evasion that I love so much, I just said it…flat out:

They are bad guys. They are training to hurt us. They are called terrorists.

Why are they bad? Why don’t they like us?

And a very touchy conversation took place in which I tried very hard to explain, in 6-year old terms, how Americans haven’t always been nice either, and that people spend years hating other people for things that could probably be solved with diplomacy. I explained that they didn’t like us very much. That they wanted to hurt us.

My darling little boy then asked me if the terrorist could come here. I could tell he was scared.

I wanted to say no. I wanted so badly to say no.

Honey they do try to come here a lot. But that’s why we have soldiers and police and the Army and Navy and Air Force and Marines and they all protect us.

His eyes were huge. And I wanted to lie to him.

Well Mom, if they came here I’d hide in our ottoman with the toys. And I know some karate.

Sigh. My 6-year old, thinking about how to evade a terrorist. What kind of world is this?

You won’t have to hide, sweetie. We have lots of people to protect us. Plus, our President is working on making it so that we all don’t hate each other anymore. And no one will want to hurt anyone.

Softening a bit, he came and sat next to me on the couch.

Mom, the next time you go see Barack Obama at that place…can you tell him to talk to them right away. Like, maybe, before I go back to school from my vacation?

I blinked a few times, put my arm around him…

I’ll try honey. I’m sure he’s very busy though. But I will try…

And with that he was off the couch and practicing his Tae Kwon Do moves on his sister’s new dinosaur.

I wanted to start the conversation over. I wanted to make sure I explained to him that war wasn’t the answer and that these terrorists had families of their own…probably a little boy and a girl, just like his family.

Instead I sat there dumbfounded, and worried and unsure how to explain to him culture clashes and wars that were as old as time. And hoping I didn’t say anything to ingrain in him the idea that Americans were entitled to everything and always right, and that he was superior to anyone- but also making sure he understood killing innocent people was never acceptable. And that we will always defend ourselves against attacks.

All I saw was him punching and kicking the dinosaur. And I wanted to cry.

I think I failed.


  1. There’s no one right way to have that conversation. I think you did great. At his age, he can probably tell when you’re being dishonest, and you need him to trust you. You were reassuring about all the President’s work and the agencies in place to protect him. You got him thinking about what he personally could do to help. I’ve had similar conversations this past year with my now-seven yr old, and it isn’t easy. But I think you handled it well.

  2. These conversations are never easy; you did the best you could in the moment. In general, we don’t have the news on around Laurel, but I remember one moment where I had NPR on the radio before picking her up at school and didn’t turn the radio off before shutting off the car. And of course when I started the car up after pick up the first thing that comes on is “….women and children killed…” She had a lot of questions about that.

    We can’t shield our kids from everything — it’s impossible… these moments happen. We can just do the best we can to explain in age appropriate terms, and assure that we are there to protect our kids as well as we can.

    Big sigh.

  3. How could this be failure? You started a dialogue that will be ongoing. This may be the first conversation, but it certainly will not be the last.

  4. But war sometimes is the answer, but you know that.

    It’s gotta suck being a parent at times like this, or when 2012 came out (my friend’s daughter was convinced she wouldn’t make it to 2012, and therefore not get to see NYC).

    I’d have no idea how to talk about this to a child, beyond we value life and try to protect it both here and abroad.

  5. Les Petomane says:

    Yes you DID fail. Like all liberals that don’t fully understand what’s going on and think that by holding hands and singing kumbaya everything will be alright. You failed your son miserably.

    You failed by lying to him that Obama is working to fix things. His only accomplishment so far is to constantly vote “present” while the country crumbles and burns around him.

    You failed by wanting to explain that these savages have families and kids that have similar feelings to him. Get it through your thick liberal mush-filled skull… they are trying to friggin KILL us! Their terrorism is all based around imposing their will and their religion on us whether we like it or not.

    Yes, you failed big time. Maybe you can straighten out the story once the terrorists win from within the burqa you, your daughter and all the women at blogher will be wearing.

    The one consolation is that once the terrorists have won all you liberals will be in the same boat as everyone else your heads are decapitated and displayed. Maybe your diplomacy can help you then, but I doubt it.

  6. Oh, I forget my friend’s little brother freaking out at cabbies in NYC because they were Sikh and wearing turbans. He kept screaming “it’s the Tally-ban” and “I don’t want to die.”

    Made the cabbie a little uncomfortable.

  7. And … there goes the discourse.

  8. #5: Keep it classy, dude. Nothing like failing at conversation. I guess that’s why we have the internet.
    .-= Aaron Brazell´s last blog ..7 Words That Must Die in 2010 =-.

  9. Annnnnd I am NOT feeding the trolls. I want to but I refuse.
    I think there’s no easy way to have that talk. There’s not really a coherent Blue Print for it. So I’m interested to see what other intelligent comenters hve to say.

  10. Les,

    You are an asshole. Parenting isn’t hard enough so thank you VERY much for adding your two cents. You obviously do not have a heart. I’m not a liberal and even I thought you were a dick.


    .-= Jo´s last blog .. =-.

  11. I’m amused at the thought of me in a burqa

  12. Jane Hamilton says:

    I think you did as good a job as any mother can, when it comes to explaining difficult issues like this to a child. Whether you are the president or a stay-at-home mom, such questions can have anyone stumped. Children usually ponder over such things a lot. My guess is, your son will be back for more clarifications. You can always explain to him all those other things you wanted to say. Nice post!

  13. Les Petomane says:

    Yes Jo I am an asshole… I don’t pull punches and call them as I see them… life is tough sometimes eh?

    And mr “technosailor”… yes, this is the Internet. The same one that gives you the ability to whine, bitch and be a douche on twitter.

  14. Les:
    Am not a liberal – actually pretty much a hawk on national defense issues – but also understand the nuances of politics & all human relationships. Erin is trying to convey that notion of understanding & critical thinking in her children that transends simplistic black & white thinking which your psyche appears to depend so much on.

    It will actually be that nuanced – and balanced approach that is the best way to ultimately overcome islamic radicalism. Combo of the sword – and the need to understand & address the causal factors leading to such radicalism.

    It’s both easier – and thus alluring – to be simplistic & paint the world in pure white and black. And many liberals, as well as conservatives – paint those high contrast pictures.

    Erin’s shade of grey is not to your liking – but it’s really your problem of perception, not hers in attempting to convey the reality of existence to her children, rather than naive simplicity.

  15. Wow, Les, that’s GREAT! I can’t imagine why people hate Americans for being self-centered, egotistical assholes with people like you around to spread hope and love.
    Perhaps you could let us know what you told your 6 year old son today. Oh, wait, you probably don’t have kids…or you probably let Fox News do all of your talking for you.

    QofS – you did just fine. This won’t be your only conversation, unfortunately, and as he gets older, more questions will be answered. You’re doing just fine. 🙂

  16. They say less is more. Experts suggest asking kids what they think when serious topics come up. I think you rode the line of honesty but protection, allowing him a tiny glimpse into the real world.

    Speaking of less is more, that commenter, Les, is also more. More of an asshole.
    .-= Jackie´s last blog ..Operation Eat Your Veggies =-.

  17. In all seriousness Les, do you think we have zero responsibility in creating the culture that make people want to kill us? No one is denying they want to kill us and I’m also rather FINE with protecting Americans… how does that make me a …what did you call it…mushy something something liberal ?

    …I also wonder if you call our guys savages when we kill? But I’m guessing anytime we do anything it’s righteous and good.

  18. You didn’t fail. He’s six. He listened until he had reached his comprehension limit and then went off to practice his moves on dinosaurs – something he probably does when you haven’t just had a conversation about terrorism too. Because he’s six.

    And Les, terrorists have families just like we do. Love their kids and spouses and maybe even are doted on by their mothers.

    Liberalism didn’t cause terrorism and isn’t making terrorism easier for terrorists or prolonging the hostilities. Their have been hostilities in the Middle East for centuries, going back farther then our interaction or even knowledge of them. We don’t really understand them anymore than they do us and THAT’s the problem.

    The failure to engage without rancor is at issue. Until people can sit and debate rationally – without blame or name-calling – nothing is going to change.
    .-= annie´s last blog ..The House Without A Christmas Tree =-.

  19. Ellizabeth says:

    This isn’t a situation where you can “fluff” it up. As a member of the military, I do not look forward to the day when my son asks me why I’ve been gone for so long. No matter what the political beliefs of individuals, we have 1 President that represents America. Being a Republican doesn’t mean that I can’t support him.
    This is a different world then what I grew up in. 9/11 chanced everything. So, yes, we have to explain to our children what is going on. You didn’t fail him by explaining your views.

  20. Dave_in_SA says:

    Cher M. Petomane,
    The question raised here is a legitimate one: how to teach our children that Evil exists in the world but doesn’t necessarily have to consume us – or even defeat us. And you use it as as excuse to drop in, shout a few ‘liberals-are-poopyheads’ and mumble incoherently about decapitations and TERRORISTS!! Which means you’ve already given up to terrorism.

    Shame on you.

  21. You resisted the urge to lie to your son, that alone shows you haven’t failed. Like other human beings, sometimes parents don’t have all the answers. When it comes to terrorism and other people’s actions having on effect on us, noone has the answers. It’ll change based on who currently calls the shots among the training camps and planners. Having a continuing dialog and not crumbling out of fear is all that one can really do.

    That said, it’s not the liberals who don’t grasp what’s going on. The trolls are completely oblivious as to the fact that a world exists beyond their own sense of everyday reality. The phrase “terrorists win” would imply that there is a uniform group being fought against…that is far from the case, but when you’re scared of a concept it’s easy to confuse the details. Also, Presidents don’t “vote ‘present'” because there is only one of them (as opposed to Congressional representatives). Too bad people who think they know the solution aren’t quite clear on the problem. Looks like someone needs to stop trolling blogs.
    .-= Alicia´s last blog ..A new human prion variant or wishful thinking? =-.

  22. #5: My whining on Twitter affects me. Your attacks here affect others. Which one is more relevant. Ha.
    .-= Aaron Brazell´s last blog ..7 Words That Must Die in 2010 =-.

  23. Les Petomane says:

    You do know that I’m sitting back and laughing loudly right? — you liberals are so easy.

  24. Gregg (#14), your comment was so eloquent and so very much in line with my thoughts. Thank you.

    Erin, I’ve had similar conversations with Tacy about 9/11 and Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. My rule of thumb is to give what information they can take, in terms they can understand. They’ll let us know when they want more. I think your initial foray into this complicated discussion was a fine one.
    .-= Julie @ The Mom Slant´s last blog ..Have yourself a happy little holiday =-.

  25. I dunno, for a complete douche you have to give him credit for his pseudonym. Although I think he’s going to lose his Conservative card when his buddies find out he enjoys French culture. Anus.
    .-= the kaiser´s last blog ..West Bend, Wisconsin =-.

  26. Les… you realize we’re sitting back and laughing too, right?

    I have power the delete you… moderate you…yet I let you stay and troll…why do you think that is?

  27. Melissa Wardy says:

    Erin – You hardly failed. You taught your son that you respect him and his questions enough to give him quasi-adult answers. Since he is a quasi-adult, this seems appropriate enough for me. You also told him that diplomacy, in the long run, is always a better answer. You taught him what is essential to being an American: that we will always defend ourselves. You also taught him that this isn’t a Republican or Democratic issue, it is an American issue that both the conservative and liberal members of the military, law enforcement and Intelligence communities will work together to fight off.

    We are mothers in a time of war. I think there is little else we can do.

  28. Les-

    At least Obama has voted “present.” Remind me again what good things Bush did? Oh right. That would be send us into several wars, killing thousands, costing millions and fail to form coherent sentences 99% of the time. You’re right, Obama is really the one to watch out for.

    Maybe Erin should just read your comment to her son so he understands why people hate Americans. Because you’re the reason. You. Not those of us who try to promote understanding and that CRAZY idea of peace. I’d rather have a present who votes “present” than one who votes “war” every single time. I also prefer mine literate, but that’s neither here nor there.

    You know, I’m pretty proud of my “thick liberal mush-filled skull.” You wouldn’t believe how far it’s gotten me.

  29. dont listen to the idiot up there. there is no proper way to have a conversation about terrorism with a 6 year old and you did the best you could. no one in their right mind should be spitting war propaganda at a kid and anyone that does that fails as a parent. we have to tell kids that yes the world isnt fair,yes there are people that don like us for whatever reason and yes a few of these people want to kill us but we must also let them know that we cant just throw bombs at all of our problems and start destroying entire countries just because 3 guys who claim to be Muslim decided to act like fucking retards.

  30. Er, a president that votes “present.” Close enough.

  31. Les Petomane says:

    Because it’s link bait queenie. Look at all the traffic I’ve brought you. Without my rant your only comments would consist of the pat-on-the-back, fawning “aww, you’re such a good, conscientious mommy” kind. You need someone like me visiting from time-to-time, it breaks the monotony from the constant liberal “Boosh is bad, Obama is God” drone.

  32. In no way did you fail. But even if you had “lied” to J you still wouldn’t have failed. Parents lie to kids all the time. How many had Santa Claus coming down their chimney last week?
    .-= Adrienne´s last blog ..FML =-.

  33. awww Les, you’re cute to think I care about traffic. We’re just hunting you for sport.

  34. Well you ran into the problem of trying to prove a negative or trying to explain something we ourselves don’t quite understand. I have had this conversation problem when explaining racism to my son. He had a hard time comprehending why someone would not like someone because of the color of their skin. I love how children can be so simplistic. I wish we could all keep that. Somewhere along the way that gets lost in being educated and growing up and all the bad things that happen.

    I suppose we could go back to the tic-tac-toe analogy or the War Games movie and try to explain why nobody wins. Unfortunately in this thread we will see the same thing happen. Nobody will win their own opinion.

  35. Queenie:

    No sport here….the slow moving/thinking types are just a waste of ammo…..

  36. this is why i don’t watch news on the telly. and i’m quick to close windows on the computer. you did fine. not much i’d have done differently.
    .-= mommymae´s last blog ..too busy to breathe =-.

  37. Yum. I’ve always wanted to be an easy liberal in a burqa. Although I imagine that the burqa would be hard to remove. Thus making me less easy. Unless you’re speaking of easy as in “easy to rile up” in which case I say, meh. Lame. It’s much more fun to make sex jokes. Plus I’m not going to waste my time talking with someone I know has NO desire to hear my viewpoint. Spew your vitriol Les. Spew baby. We make no progress if we show no respect. I’d be all for having a civilized, articulate, fact-based debate here. But I can tell you have no such desire. So to you, I bid adieu my dear.
    .-= Molly´s last blog ..Fear and Hope =-.

  38. Les,

    Are you also laughing at your insecurities & inability to state your opinions without using your real name? What are you hiding from? Do the terrorists have you? Why the fake name? Step out from behind the curtain because if you truly believed in the crap that you are spewing you wouldn’t need the safety of anonymity.
    .-= Mike Serven´s last blog ..mserven: @QueenofSpain Does anyone ever post hateful things on your blog using their real identity? =-.

  39. Les: They’re all gonna laugh at you!
    .-= Aaron Brazell´s last blog ..7 Words That Must Die in 2010 =-.

  40. Erin, i think perhaps the question is not how you handled it but how old is your son and when is the right time to sharing the harsh realities of the world with our kids. Six is young. I can see why you had your doubts. But not answering makes things scarier. How do we simplify the complexities and still make them feel protected? No right answer. My kids were young during 9/11. It was a hard time to parent with color codes canceling class trips over bridges and tunnels and neighboring towns with cars of parents who never came home from work sitting at train stations. Looking back i think if we had tried to sugar coat it all and protect them they would have grown up not trusting us. We do what we can do. As far as who the bad guys are and the politics surrounding that, those details are over their heads. Don’t worry, your teens will challenge your politics soon enough.

    And Les, if you want to make a point, just a tip, don’t rant like a lunatic here. If we behave this way in blog comments there is no hope for peace anywhere. This is the place for the exchange of ideas, not insults and accusations. But we are considering your comment of burqas at Blogher and are thinking of getting them branded.
    .-= amy zimmerman´s last blog ..Time to Cry Tuesday – The family you choose =-.

  41. Amy/Erin:

    Just some advice re the blogher-branded burqas….methinks there may be a fine line between a burqa and a Snuggie(tm)….. just sayin’

  42. @Gregg: Speaking of Snuggies, have you seen the Necky? :p

  43. Greg, that is hysterical! Perhaps one for the dogs too. That commercial kills me.
    .-= amy zimmerman´s last blog ..Time to Cry Tuesday – The family you choose =-.

  44. No, sadly I remember & also had the joy of wearing a dickie in Jr High marching band. And yes do I still have emotional scars

  45. Les Petomane says:

    Aww Erin, you know I loves ya. Maybe someday I’ll come over for a pool party or maybe celebrate your birthday in Vegas. Wouldn’t that be a gas?

  46. *And yes I do still have emotional scars*
    .-= Mike Serven´s last blog ..mserven: @QueenofSpain Does anyone ever post hateful things on your blog using their real identity? =-.

  47. So either fake Les is a 3rd man in or real Les(but still very fake) just had a bunch of fun at our expense and is a sociopath.

    Either way, Les I hope you get some help.
    .-= Mike Serven´s last blog ..mserven: @QueenofSpain Does anyone ever post hateful things on your blog using their real identity? =-.

  48. Erin, I usually don’t talk about HS issues, but yours cut close to home. One of my sons was 7 on Sept 11th. I was in such shock that I kept watching the buildings fall again and again, waiting to make sense of it. My baby said, “Mom, why do you keep watching the same thing.” And I turned off the T.V.

    Yeah, I did the wrong thing by watching the clips on TV. But my kids taught me that they are resilient and smart and good citizens of the world. Despite my failures. Watch the 80’s film “Hope and Glory.” In it, the kids are kids, even during the Blitz. Even with imperfect parents. Oh, and give the kids a hug for me.


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    This post was mentioned on Twitter by QueenofSpain: Terrorism and 1st Graders http://queenofspainblog.com/2009/12/28/terrorism-and-1st-graders/

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