Bin Laden Is Dead — Explaining It to My 6-Year-Old
What do you say to your children?
Just a year old when the twin towers fell, my oldest didn’t understand what was happening. She ran around our house in San Francisco repeating “Oh my God. Oh my God.”
She was mimicking us as we sat glued to the television that morning, having been awoken by a crying friend’s phone call alerting us to the attack. Since moving here, she’s seen the memorial plaques in the park, honoring the parents of kids she’s shared an auditorium with, parents who never got to see their children grow up and reach milestones. She’s seen documentaries in school about 9/11 with the children of the dead asking, “Why did they hurt my daddy?” For her, the death of bin Laden does bring a sense that justice has been served.
For my youngest child it brings an entirely new set of questions and concerns. “Mama, who is dead?” he asked as I listened to the President. I explained that a bad man was dead.
“Does he have a mama? Isn’t she sad he’s dead?” he asked.
I told him I wasn’t sure his mom is alive, but yes if she is I’m sure she is sad. It was such a strange thing for me to consider that this terrorist was someone’s child, that it took me aback for a minute.
“Why didn’t his mama spank him for being so bad?” my son continued. I tried to explain that he was a grown up and that even if his mom wanted to she couldn’t spank him anymore.
He had more questions about bin Laden, the most poignant being, “Why did he want to hurt people? Did he want to hurt me?" I never want to lie to my kids, but my son already has so much anxiety about things I didn’t need to add to the pile.
“He’s dead now honey, he can’t hurt us.”
I couldn’t really get across to a six-year-old what fatwa or Jihad was, or theocracies, and Middle East foreign policy.
Personally, when I heard the news a wave of relief washed over me, and a sense of ‘YES! We got him.’ Secondly, I felt hopeful. Hopeful this would mean the United States would quickly see an end to our involvement in the bitter wars we’ve been fighting for over a decade.
Finally the emotion as I watched the revelers was one of uneasiness. I don’t feel comfortable celebrating the death of this evil man. In my opinion that’s something that the other guys do. I think we’re better than that. Am I glad he’s dead? Yes.
My son was okay with the answers I gave him, thankfully as the nuances were too much for me to explain. As we watched the news we saw the crowds celebrating in D.C. and at Ground Zero. “It’s not nice to have a party when someone got killed,” he said shaking his little head. For someone who is small and guileless it’s that simple. Black and white.
He doesn’t understand the price we’ve paid as a nation because of the actions of this man, the lives lost on that fateful day or in the days since. He hasn’t the ability to grasp that some can hate him and wish for his death simply because his nation was founded on principles they vehemently oppose, or because they worship another god. He also has never hated someone so much that he could consider celebrating when that person dies.
It made me wish I could be six again.
What have you told your children about the death of Osama bin Laden? Tell us in the comments.