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Why I Kept the Threat to Schools a Secret From My Kids

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My kids, age 4 and 8, go to two different Los Angeles schools, so every morning I drop the big one at his elementary school before circling back to drop the little one at pre-school. I was halfway to my first stop when my husband called. Speaking cryptically into the Bluetooth he said that all schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District were closed today because of what he described as, "a viable threat."

Neither of our kid's schools was affected, but he wanted me to know. "Just make sure everything is OK," he said cautiously. "Or should we send them to school at all?" My kids were half-listening from the backseat and were quick to chime in.

"What did Daddy say?" the little one asked.

"What happened to someone's school?" my older one said.

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I froze, totally unclear of what to say. My husband and I had tried to speak indirectly on the phone so the kids wouldn't know what was happening. The thought of kids feeling unsafe at school seems tragic to me. The thought of kids feeling unsafe at all makes me feel like our kids are being robbed of the sweet innocence of childhood.

But kids are smart at any age, and they know when something is serious. They might not know exactly what is going on, but they are always aware when something is going on.

Parents wake up every day wondering how to explain their children's reality to them, because they probably don't understand it themselves.

And while my husband and I always try to be honest with our kids in an age-appropriate fashion, I don't know how to explain to my kids that they live in a world where safety is fair game. I don't know how to tell my kids they should feel safe at night because I'm not sure they can. And I don't know how to tell my kids that even though their Los Angeles schools weren't affected by today's closure, next time might be different. How do I make them feel safe when the fact is that whatever the results of today's threat turn out to be, there will definitely be a next time? And another one after that?

Because their world isn't safe, and I just don't know how to make a 4-year-old and an 8-year-old comfortable with that. I'm much older and I'm not.

I'm certainly not naïve to the reality of the world. When I was a kid there were bomb threats at school that almost always turned out to be hoaxes—disturbing hoaxes, but hoaxes none-the-less. And throughout the world, many children in various countries live with the reality of terror each and every day. But I bet their parents wake up every day wondering how to explain their children's reality to them, because they probably don't understand it themselves.

So while I always try to be honest with my kids, today I wasn't. "Your dad called to tell me something about a friend's school," I said matter of fact. "There was a fire at a friend's school, but everyone is OK."

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The kids moved on to another subject as my mind wandered to all the what if's this day could have held. At some point my kids are going to understand that they live in a world where safe places are no longer safe and where there are people who would like to harm innocent people. And yes, those people would even like to harm kids.

If they hear about today's closure at school, I'll address it then. But for now, my children don't need to know; they don't need to be anxious at school or anywhere else. There's just no easy way for kids to understand terrorism. Lord knows, we grown-ups don't understand it ourselves.

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