I hadn’t seen any headlines or broadcasts. It was my five year old that broke the news.
‘Mummy, there was a BIG earthquake and all the buildings were shaking and falling and there was FIRE!’
‘In Japan. Mummy, people were KILLED!’
Ezra’s eyes were wide, echoing my horrified stare.
It seemed too soon after the earthquakes in New Zealand (Ezra’s great grandparents in Christchurch are still rocked by aftershocks). I was so stunned by the news, at first I didn’t question the source.
At dinner time, when Ezra was still talking about the earthquake, I had to probe him about how he knew so much.
‘We watched it on the whiteboard.’
With the projector? My eyebrows hit the roof.
‘All of your friends watched it?’
Ezra nodded vigorously.
Now I don’t believe in smothering kids in fairy dust. But these are children in reception class, some of whom have just turned 4. Surely they’re too young to witness scenes of the world breaking apart?
I shared my concerns with a couple of mums from school. One mother said she was actually happy that her daughter knew and pleased that her response was full of empathy for the Japanese.
Another said she was amazed to hear her daughter talking about tectonic plates and that she didn’t seem traumatised.
‘Although I did catch her grinding her teeth in her sleep.’
But my friend L was upset. Her son had been talking non-stop about the earthquake, asking if it would happen here, saying his daddy wasn’t going to be washed away.
‘I’m not happy about it. They’ve got the rest of their lives to learn about how shitty things can be.’
The next day, I put Ezra’s teacher on the spot. She was quick to explain.
‘The children were curious, they’d heard talk about it and we showed a short clip so they could understand what an earthquake means.’
She assured me they hadn’t seen anything graphic. No floating bodies. How did the kids react, I asked? They were sorry for Japan but otherwise seemed fine, she said.
‘Well they might not have been fine when they got home,’ L chipped in.
She described her 4-year-old’s fears and that she didn’t feel it was right for kids that little to be exposed to something even adults find overwhelming.
I appreciated that the teacher handled the information in a calm and constructive way (she even drew tectonic plates shifting!). In turn, the teacher accepted that it was a bad idea showing young kids potentially disturbing media – especially the news – without consulting parents first.
It’s a tough one.
Now that Ezra’s started school, I have to accept that much of what he learns is outside my control. We need our kids to feel secure but we can’t pretend there are no dark clouds on the horizon.
And when the sky is falling, how much can any parent do?
We hold our babies close as our hearts ache for the motherless. We tuck our children into bed hoping they can’t see our hands shake.
In our daily balancing act, we whisper the mantra of tightrope walkers: Breathe. Don’t look down. Just keep on going.
HELP JAPAN: COME OUT AND HOOLA!
Join Babes about Town at a Hoola Hooping Fundraiser led by Charlene of HigHoops on April 2 at The Old Queens Head on Essex Rd, Islington N1. All proceeds will be donated to the relief efforts in Japan.
Make PayPal Donations to Japan: Relief Efforts by Save the Children and other major charities
Talking about Disaster: Talking to Children from Red Cross
Talking to Kids about World Natural Disasters from New York University Child Study Center
When Tragedy Strikes, Do You Discuss? on The SITS Girls Network
Photo from Angry Arthur by Hiawyn Oram and Satoshi Kitamura
Help Japan poster (pictured) by agency Wieden+Kennedy. Net proceeds from sales go to Red Cross