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What I Told My 5-Year-Old About Mass Shootings

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I told my 5-year-old a few things the other day that broke my heart.

She looked at me with her wide eyes and asked, "Mommy, why are you crying?" as I stared at my television, crying and soaking in more and more dire details about our recent tragedy in Southern California. I felt like I had to tell her something.

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How the hell are we all supposed to try to parent in this confusing age? I had a flashback to 2012 and how I faked my cheer through the holidays after another devastating scenario due to gun violence.

Just plunking out this title made me instantly sick. I can't believe I've actually written those words. I want to vomit. And yet, they're true. It happened. And it will come up again.

Do I think guns are bad? No. But I do know that people seem to be increasingly sick, disturbed and radical beyond all comprehension. We all know it. We all fear it. And because of it, we're all trapped.

Although I've read horrific stories and disturbing facts, I've thankfully never had a first-hand experience with gun violence, which perhaps makes me dangerously naive to it all and explains my mixed emotions in the first place. It's all so complicated and simple at the same time.

My take as a regular, non-expert parent? We are living in a country at war.

I continue to pray about it, because the reality is it's the only thing I have total personal control over.

So I told my daughter:

"I'm crying because there are so many bad people in this world." Her eyes got sad. "There are a lot of good people, but there are a lot of bad people, too. And we want to make sure to try and stay away from bad people."

And then I got to the part that hurt so badly to say out loud.

"I want to tell you something: If you're ever somewhere, and there's a bad person and you're scared, you do your best to run as fast you can away from them. Run away in zig zags, faster than you've ever run before, and keep running until you find a spot far away from anyone else. Then you hide there and be very, very quiet like a mouse until I come get you or a good person finds you. You don't move until a good person finds you. And that's what you do if that ever happens, OK? But it probably won't happen."

She listened with big, wide eyes and said "OK."

I prayed and prayed and prayed right then, hoping that she'll never have to go through something so traumatic. And I continue to pray about it too, because the reality is it's the only thing I have total personal control over. (I also pray that the leaders in charge of this country figure something out quickly.)

My daughter then asked how she'll know whether the people are good or bad. "You'll just know it," I told her. That generalized blanket statement based on nothing just about killed me, but it was all I could come up with at the moment that was appropriate for a 5-year-old with limited understanding.

We are parenting in an age of war, and life must continue between battles.

She nodded, I hugged her and told her not to worry about it (that this conversation was something that all mommies and daddies tell their kids about "just in case") and left it at that for now. I quickly changed the subject and we continued to decorate our Christmas tree.

Because we are parenting in an age of war, and life must continue between battles.

Just like many of our grandmothers didn't know if their boyfriends would return from WWII to get married, and just as my great-great-grandmother (allegedly) saw her first husband and first-born child beheaded right in front of her, in her own home over a hundred years ago (by Turks of the Ottoman Empire during the Armenian Genocide), none of us know our true fate.

Nothing is certain or normal anymore, and we've got to buckle down, face it and fight through our fear—even if that means talking to our 5-year-olds about what to do if a nightmare scenario hits home. (How very warm and fuzzy to read during this holiday time, no?)

Unfortunately, we have no other choice. How will this affect them? Will it make them more callous or more kind? I have no idea. But I do feel strongly about educating them about it in age-appropriate ways.

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No parent wants to scare their kids. I certainly don't. But I think every parent believes in the most important task of raising children who are resilient, street-smart and prepared to take on life as they grow into young adults. And properly preparing kids requires preparation on our part. As scary as it is, we must face it head on.

Because yes, we're all raising our kids in a country at war.

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