This week, two major — and wildly disparate — historic events occurred: the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Princess Catherine in London, and the killing of Osama bin Laden by American troops in Pakistan. As avid followers of current events, G and I were happy to see that N was greatly interested in both.
Naturally, N — a 3 1/2 year old girl who loves (and believes in) fairy tales — was delighted about the wedding of the prince and princess. N woke up early with us to watch the royal nuptials on TV, pretending the whole time that she was either the princess or a cowgirl attending the royal wedding. The next morning, she gasped when she saw a full-page picture of “The Kiss” on the front of the Daily News. “Mommy! Can I please hang this picture on my wall??” Thus a milestone: we hung the first “poster” on her wall. (I thought we had 10 more years before posters on the wall, but no. At least it’s not a preschool-age boy band!)
Just a few days later, like most American families, we tuned into the evening news to watch the incredible story that Osama bin Laden had been killed by American troops in a middle-of-the-night raid on the terrorist’s compound. That story was tougher to explain to a 3 1/2 year old, so we kept it simple: we told N he was a bad man who hurt lots of people, and that Obama caught him and now the bad guy can’t hurt anyone anymore.
As we explained the “bad guy” to N, G and I both felt a mixture of emotions: pride and relief, but also fear. Looking into N’s trusting eyes, I couldn’t help feeling scared. Would Al Qaeda retaliate? N wasn’t even born on 9/11 — it’s incredible to me that she was born in 2007, six years after that terrible day. Now whatever happens will happen in her lifetime.
N was fascinated by bin Laden’s appearance — every time she saw him on TV, she said, “Mama, is that the bad guy? The guy with the white pajamas and white hat and the mustache?” I simply said yes, and nothing further — but I made a mental note to point out all the nice Muslim people (especially in Brooklyn!) who may dress the same as the “bad guy,” but who are good people just like us.
Last night Obama was featured on the evening news for visiting the troops to thank them for their courage and service. N explained her theory that “Obama took out his sword and the bad guy took out his sword and they fought and Obama gave the bad guy a bad boo-boo and died him.” Well, I thought, she understands the basic story.
I was born in early 1978 and can always remember watching the evening news with my parents. One of my earliest memories is watching news coverage of the eruption of Mt. St. Helens in 1980; when President Reagan was shot in 1981, I wanted to send him a puppy to make him feel better. (Even then I had an appreciation for bipartisanship.) N had a similar reaction to the recent tsunami in Japan — she said, “If I were supergirl, I would take care of that problem.”
I have later memories of the fall of Communism in the late 1980s. My diary entries from that time (in between scribbles about crushes on boys) explain the meaning of “glasnost” (which I learned from Peter Jennings) and marvel at a brave Chinese student standing in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square. It all seemed so dramatic and important — and it was.
G and I decided to watch the evening news together as a family a few months ago, changing our routine of only viewing MSNBC or the Daily Show after N goes to bed. Now we sit in front of the TV together and watch Brian Williams over dinner. I know there are studies that say families should always eat at the dinner table rather than in front of the TV — and we do eat at the dinner table a few times a week. But I don’t think it’s a bad thing to eat dinner together in front of the evening news. N has lots of questions about what she sees, which gives us an invaluable opportunity to talk to her about what she is seeing.
After all — the news is a first draft of history. I consider these early history lessons!