Friday, September 23, 2011

Try Explaining This One to Your Kids

There was a car bombing in Monroe, Michigan on Tuesday.

How many of you just went back and read that again to make sure you had read it correctly? I sure did when I saw the headline. Monroe, Michigan, population 20,700 and change, had a car bombing. A local lawyer, aged 42, and his sons, 11 and 13, were driving to football practice around 5:30 when a pipe bomb placed under the passenger seat went off, injuring all three of them. The boys are still in the hospital. The dad has been released.

At moments like this, I usually flip automatically into what I like to call "Law and Order" mode. Who are the most likely suspects? I'm thinking someone on the other side of a case. Turns out this guy handled divorces, so that makes it even juicier. Someone got screwed in a divorce, decides to kill the lawyer. We haven't even finished the opening credits, and the Quarterback has solved the case.

Of course, if this were a "Law and Order" episode, the very fact that the case was solved so quickly would indicate with certainty that we've got the wrong guy. There's a whole 40 minutes of TV to fill, after all, so it's either that or some big constitutional issue in how I conducted the investigation.

But I digress, which is easy to do, because this story just doesn't seem real. This is not something that happens in real life. I've written often about how trauma messes up our ideas of what is likely vs. what is possible. But this wasn't even on my possible list. There are places in the world where this happens. Southeast Michigan is not one of them.

The Catholic school that the boys attend held a prayer service for them yesterday. There are also excerpts from a letter from the Principal to parents, and it looks like he did a pretty good job. But this raises the question, how exactly would you explain this to one of the boys' classmates in such a way that was honest but didn't scare them? This is not one of the many types of horrible events that I have a fairly stock way of explaining to kids -- and remember, that's allegedly one of my areas of expertise.

So let's go with general rules of thumb:

Tell the truth, the whole truth, but not all the details unless asked: Your friend is in the hospital. He got very hurt in an accident, but it looks like he's going to be OK.

If they're going to hear it anyway, let them hear it from you: There was an explosion in the car he and his dad and brother were riding in. The police think someone put an explosive device under one of the seats.

Separate what is known from what is not known, and that people are working on it: The police are investigating and they've even called investigators from the federal government. They don't know who did this or why, but they have some good leads and they're trying their best to find out.

Normalize the feeling, educate about the probabilities: This is a pretty scary thing. And one of the reasons it's so scary and such a big deal is because it's incredibly unusual. I've never heard of something like this happening. So even though it really scares me, I also know it's really unlikely to happen again.

Is this going to be enough to make them feel completely safe? No. It probably doesn't make you feel completely safe either. But you have to start somewhere, and then just live with the fact that it's going to feel scary for a while, and it will get better.


Colleen said...

"But you have to start somewhere, and then just live with the fact that it's going to feel scary for a while, and it will get better."

I think this is the hard part. We don't want to live with it for a while, and I guess we need to hear that a with the fact that it will suck for a while, then get better.

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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at
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