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How To Explain The Unexplainable

Fancy Photography for Veer

Yesterday morning was supposed to be a fun, special morning. I was in New York City, scheduled to do the Today show. My segment was about the growing “manny” population, a trend I reported on in Parenting’s July issue. Natalie Morales was going to chat with me about the article’s key findings; next to me would be Juan and Dan, two real-life mannies who would share their real-life experiences. 

Back home in Florida, my wife Brandy had the Today show DVR-ed. She woke up our two boys at 8am (they’re doing an A+ job sleeping in this summer) so they could see the segment live. Brandy turned on the TV, hoping to see me in my electric blue shirt and black skinny tie, an outfit she helped me pick out the day before. Instead, the screen revealed something that most of America would be staring at all day: a wide, aerial shot of a large building, colorful neon tubing criss-crossing on its façade, the parking lot filled with swirling, blinking police lights. She turned the channel before the boys could ask any questions.

Meanwhile, back at the Today show, the many guests who’d been booked for that morning’s program—a woman with a poofy Pomeranian on her lap, a set of twins, a group of stylishly dressed women—piled up in the green room. They stared at the aerial shot on the flatscreen TV, and awaited word of whether their segment would run. As minutes and half-hours passed, it became clear that no of us would be chatting with Matt, Al, Natalie or Savannah. Instead, it would be a morning filled with that wide, neon-accented aerial shot. 

Sadly, today is yet another day in America’s recent history where we woke up to a world that seemed darker and more troubled than the day before. Columbine. September 11th. The killing spree in Arizona. The Virginia Tech shootings. The cannibal in Miami. It’s yet another day where we hope our kids don’t hear about the news, so we can avoid explaining the unexplainable. Yes, there are experts who can help us frame this event in a way a 4-year-old or an 11-year-old can handle. But the event itself? Unexplainable—totally, completely, wholly, absolutely. How can we water down that incident into something our kids can digest? Children suspend the real world. Their world is a place where fairies with deep pockets pay for teeth, where jolly, white-bearded men bring gifts in the middle of the night, where Jupiter is a long plane ride away. We let our kids live in that world because it’s so much better than the one we live in, and we want them to have that as long as possible. In describing that loss of innocence, one of my favorite songwriters Eddie Vedder puts it this way:

At six, the boy believed the moon overhead followed him. At nine, he had deciphered the illusion, trading magic for fact, no trade-backs. So this is what it’s like to be an adult…

So I sit here thinking: how to explain the unexplainable? In my un-expert opinion, here’s how to do it. Tell your kids that the mind, like the body, can get sick. We have no trouble accepting that the heart, lungs, eyes, ears, knees, etc., can deteriorate, give out, stop working. But we often don’t include the mind in that discussion. The mind can deteriorate, give out, stop working, as it did for James Holmes. Jackson, remember how your stomach got sick on your birthday two years ago? Well, James’ mind got sick. And he didn’t have medicine or a doctor to help him get better. 

The other thing to remember is forgiveness. That’s the only way to get past such things. Last night on NBC’s Dateline, a Columbine survivor who lost his sister in that horrible event said he was angry and vengeful for 10 years. (That’s about half of this young man’s life.) But eventually, he began to heal, and it started with letting go. “Forgiveness is setting a prisoner free, and that prisoner is you,” he told Ann Curry. We can’t let James Holmes take our joy. Sadly, there are too many horrors in life. If we give each one a piece of us, eventually there will be nothing left.

I have not spoken to Jackson or Tanner about the shooting, and I will not bring it up. Jackson, the older, savvier sibling, will eventually see or hear something. No doubt that aerial shot of the Century 16 theater in Aurora, CO, will continue to dominate TV, and at some point Jackson will ask questions. I will do my best, but I will fail, because ultimately, I’m telling him that beyond the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus’s jurisdiction, there are dark clouds. And as he matures, he will learn that Mommy and Daddy have been holding a sky blue umbrella over his head all these years, protecting him from those dark clouds. One day he will tell us, I don’t need your umbrella anymore. He will have traded magic for fact. No trade-backs.