If you want to feel like a jerk, explain Osama bin Laden’s defeat to a 5-year-old.
The morning after a band of brave Americans filled the face of evil with lead, I decided that I needed to explain the situation to Zev. Certainly, his entire school would be abuzz with the news; I wanted Zev to hear about it from me. You know, to mitigate the scariness of confusion.
“So, um,” I began, while Zev flipped through a comic book at the breakfast table. “There was a guy – like Haman from the Purim story, remember him? – who did some very bad things. He killed a lot of people. And last night, we got him. And now he’s dead. And we’re happy.”
Zev looked pained, as though wondering whether his Mommy was suddenly homicidal. We’re happy that someone is dead? Wow. I had better explain that.
“So, yeah. It’s bad when someone gets killed, but this guy was really, really evil. Like a Super Villain,” I said, pointing to his Incredibles comic book. “And we defeated him.”
“OK,” he said, sounding uncertain.
I was feeling judged, so I hastily tried to explain that I wasn’t the only person who was happy. I told him there were people dancing in the street in front of the White House, and that they were singing the national anthem and the President said it was an important moment for America and … and …
“Oh, yeah,” I said, suddenly remembering the email about heightened security I received from his Jewish day school that morning, “and also there’re might be police officers at your school.”
“Well, most people are happy, but some people aren’t happy. And the people who aren’t happy might try to attack us again,” I said because I’m an idiot, and that’s what idiots say to 5 year-olds. “But you know what, don’t worry about that. I’m sure they’re going to explain it all to you. I figured that you will be talking about Osama bin Laden in school today, and I just wanted you to be prepared. That’s all.”
There’s something in Proverbs, warning us, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls.” What it should say is, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, lest you have to explain your glee to a child.”
I sent my kid off to school confident in the knowledge that he had no idea what I was talking about. I must have sounded nuts. But all was not lost, I told myself. Though I had flubbed the conversation about bin Laden with Zev, his teachers would not.
No doubt, Zev’s kindergarten teachers will know better than I how broach the topic, and when they did so, my explanation would suddenly make sense to him. He’d realize I had simply been giving him the heads up, so that when the class discussed this historic event, he would be able to discuss it knowledgably. There is nothing Zev likes more than to discuss something knowledgably.
“So,” I said when I picked Zev up from school that afternoon. “What did your teachers tell you about Osama bin Laden?”
“Nothing,” he said. “They didn’t mention it.”
“Really?!” I said. I couldn’t believe it. “What did you talk about?”
“Well,” he thought hard. “It was Coby’s birthday. We had cake.”
It turns out Zev’s kindergarten teachers knew exactly how to handle the news of the day: Silently. Osama was a kind of evil that adults can’t fathom; it was foolish to think a kid could. Children shouldn’t have to confront evil, whether in their lives or in a discussion at the breakfast table.
Cake, on the other hand, is always welcomed.