Explaining Haiti to My Daughter
What should we tell our children about the world’s tragedies?
-April Daniels Hussar
One day last week, as an after-school treat my first-grader and I popped into the local diner for a grilled-cheese sandwich and – Isabella’s favorite part – a coveted counter seat. Inevitably, the TV suspended on the wall above our heads was on, tuned to Fox. As background noise goes, Dr. Oz is pretty harmless, but after a while Isabella and I both happened to look up as a promo for the evening news came on. And there, flashing on the screen, were images of the devastation in Haiti.
A dust-covered child’s face, a nightmare landscape of crumbled buildings, a group of rescue workers lifting a man out of the rubble …
“That’s from the earthquake, honey,” I said.
“So sad,” she said, and I nodded, and gave her a little kiss, and a squeeze to let her know I was there, and to remind myself that she was there, safe.
The images quickly disappeared and I steered the conversation back to things more fitting for a “6-and-three-quarters” -year-old … the upcoming indoor soccer season, her spelling test, Valentine’s Day. Pink hearts and soda fountains, while just a few hundred miles away hundreds of thousands of people, including little girls, suffer and struggle to survive amid unimaginable grief, horror and pain.
Isabella isn’t a baby any more. Our babies, if we can, we must shelter. The “real” world, if we’re lucky, is to be kept at bay while little fingers are learning to grasp, chubby legs are learning to walk, and sweet voices are learning to say “mama” and “bear” and “NO!” Isabella still doesn’t know she was born on the very day the war started in Iraq; she was unaware when the tsunami devastated Indonesia and when the levees broke in New Orleans. And she has almost no concept of the fact that on a daily basis — across the ocean and right here in our town — children are starving, families go without medical care, violent crimes are committed.
I don’t believe in completely sheltering Isabella from the tragedies of the world – whether natural disasters or wars or afflictions like poverty and homelessness. In fact, I think it’s important that she start understanding how lucky she is, how fortunate we are to have all that we have. Sometimes I worry that she can never have the appreciation that I do for the relative luxury we live in – for although we’re not rich, and we work hard, we’re comfortable. We do not teeter on the edge. Isabella, unlike me as a child raised by a poor single mother, has no concept of the shame of food stamps, or lack of nice clothes, or what it’s like not being able to afford a Christmas tree.
I want to give her everything, every opportunity, every chance, and I’m starting to think that an essential part of that everything is a measured dose of the bitterness in the world. Because I want her to be able to not only appreciate, but to understand and really feel her responsibility to add to the world, to give back, to be a good fellow human.