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I Don't Know What to Say to My Kids About Paris

My 9-year-old watches me as I scan my phone. I'm looking for updates from friends in Paris, sharing hushed updates with my husband.

Gunfire at a restaurant. Hostages at the Bataclan. Over 100 people feared dead.

"Your friend François. Is he alright? Did he get killed in the bombings?"

I'm jarred by my son's question, and it takes me a second to understand what he's asking.

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"Oh, François Hollande. Yes, he's alright," I reassure him. "But he's not my friend. He's the president of France. And he was at the soccer stadium when the bombs went off."

My 7-year-old stops tossing the foam ball in his hands and rushes to my side, eyes thick with worry.

"What bombs?" he asks.

I try to conceal my panic before answering him. He is the one with the wild imagination. He is the one who still sprints to my bed after each of his vivid nightmares.

I don't know how to tell them that it's just dumb luck that they were born into these conditions.

"Some people have attacked Paris, in France, far across the Atlantic Ocean," I tell both of them. I pause to smile at the joyful obliviousness of their 3-year-old brother, who's flitting about the house with a toy dinosaur in his hands. "But look here," I continue, gesturing toward my phone. "Look at this picture. See these people? They're called first responders. And they're already helping the people who were hurt by the bombs and the guns. See all those helpers? People in Paris are even offering their apartments to those who have nowhere else to go tonight. That's what people do when something bad happens. They help. And you should always look for the helpers whenever something scary happens."

Sometimes I worry that Mr. Rogers's plea to "look for the helpers" has reached meme-level triteness. But in this moment, I don't care about triteness. I care about what works. And what works here is to give my sons a sense of security. I need to make them feel safe.

For the time being, all those helpers seem to make my sons feel safe, too.

But I know deep in my heart that this sense of security and safety is far too fragile and shallow. It is full of tiny cracks.

It is a shroud for all the things I don't know how to tell my children.

You see, I don't know how to tell them that I would shield their bodies with my own, and this still might not be enough to save any of us.

I don't know how to tell them that my love cannot stop bombs or guns or war. It cannot stop the freight train of chance.

I don't know how to tell them that things have been done in the name of their freedom—reprehensible things, things that have turned men into monsters.

I don't know how to tell them that it's just dumb luck that they were born into these conditions. I don't know how to tell them that perhaps if they were born somewhere else, in radically different circumstances, they could be the ones wielding the guns and the bombs. They could be the monsters.

All I know to tell them is to hold my hand. To look for the helpers. To lock our gazes upon those helpers.

I don't know how to tell them their lives could have easily followed a path that made them a victim of terrorism. One of the hundreds in Paris. One of the dozens in Beirut. One of the hundreds in Kenya. Attending the wrong wedding, or sunbathing on the wrong beach, or riding the wrong bus.

I don't know how to tell them that "children live in violence and terror every day, all over the globe" and that "they should just go outside and play right now, it's fine, it's safe" all in the same breath. Or the same day. The same month or year.

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I don't know how to tell them just how monstrous fate is. That it is, if not a terrorist, then a terrifying thing. One that will keep me up all night as I ponder those tiny cracks in each of my children's safe, secure worlds.

All I know to tell them is to hold my hand. To look for the helpers. To lock our gazes upon those helpers. To forget for a moment that the helpers are but one flickering light holding fast against so much murky darkness, so much terrifying chance.

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PHOTOGRAPH BY: Films Montsouris

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