Last night when my wife picked up our children from school, the eldest was in tears. Four of her friends had disappeared from after-school for half an hour. Parents had been called, school officials were beside themselves, the events of last Friday's massacre in Connecticut an enormous looming shadow.
The four girls turned up safely, although it was unclear where they had been. The school, which had instituted a new policy as of yesterday to have any and all visitors sign in and get stickers, presumably breathed a sigh of relief as they looked into what had happened. But the experience caused my normally bright, gregarious 12-year-old daughter, who had searched every room with the head of the after-school program looking for her friends, to withdraw into herself, going to bed early and burrowing under the blankets.
It's been impossible to shield children from the evolving events of last Friday's massacre. Both myself and my wife, who edits a newspaper that's part of the Deseret News, talked to the girls about it. Since they often listen to news stories we discuss at home, see the work projects we bring to our house, and read our stories on occasion, perhaps I took it for granted that they had somehow processed events that I have struggled with over the weekend.
The school sent out an e-mail on Monday, urging parents to limit access to the Internet and TV in order to close down the channels of information, the eternal churning of news media desperate to eke some new information out of a nightmarish tragedy that may never be fully explained. My children did not watch any of the coverage that I saw over the weekend, but I had forgotten about their Facebook accounts.
This all came crashing home to me this morning when my eldest approached me and told me a friend had Facebooked her that he knew of a girl who, at the age of 12, was expected to die in several weeks because of repeated beatings by her parents. I have no idea of whether or not this is true, but I realized how truly very little I can control of all the information my child has access to.
At that moment, I didn't know quite what to say to her.
"Isn't it sad, Dad?" she said forlornly, and in the face of so many realities, so much arbitrary, cruel darkness bearing down upon her beautiful, sweet heart, I could only agree.