Bursting The Bubble Of Innocence: Growing Up In The New Age Of Terrorism

We can only shield our children from the truth for a little while before they become old enough to see the terrible for themselves. But I wish they didn't have to grow up in a world rife with a brand of violence that is so evil and determined, so indiscriminate, and so omnipresent.
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I'm sad for my children. I'm sad for your children. I'm sad for the children of the U.S. and France and Belgium, the children of Syria and Iraq, the children of Bangladesh and Nigeria. I'm sad for children all over the world who are growing up in fear of terrorism and its ever broadening attacks - so unpredictable and so random as they are.

Children in previous generations have known the fear of death and destruction, and in many cases, the scale has been much larger and more horrific. Just think of World War II, Vietnam, or Rwanda's civil war to name a few.

But I can only compare my children's experiences to my own childhood in the United States in the 1970's, when the Cold War loomed over us, but left us alone; when I was too young to understand Vietnam, a war too far away to be real. There was the Iran hostage crisis, and there were a few plane hijackings - but again, they were far away in a mysterious world that was completely foreign to my friends and me.

As a child, my husband feared the Russians would nuke us. I don't remember worrying about that - maybe it was too abstract for my young mind. And certainly today, not all children worry about terrorism either. There will be those young people who fear terror attacks in their very own neighborhood, and there will be those children for whom terrorism is still too foreign an idea.

But whether or not they worry, terrorism is present - it's here and real, and like a horror movie, we never know when it will jump out of the shadows and strike.

With terror broadcast in living color on their phones and computers so vividly and frequently now, children today - especially teenagers - are rarely shielded from the frightening reality that terrorism could happen just about anywhere: even during a fireworks celebration in a lovely seaside French city where way too many young lives were taken so prematurely.

We were on vacation in a lovely American seaside town when that truck plowed through a crowd of families in Nice. My 18-year-old daughter had a nightmare two nights later. She told me in the morning that she dreamed the two of use were in our own, small hometown, when terrorists started dividing people into groups: brunettes and blonds. My daughter is brunette - I'm a dyed blonde. The blonds were to be executed. We had a bit of a laugh as my daughter told me that she begged the terrorists for my life, explaining that I was actually a brunette. But they didn't care. The dream really rattled her.

We have tickets to see a Broadway show soon - and my daughter says she's a little concerned about being in midtown Manhattan, in a theater, not far from touristy Times Square, something she's done many times before. I have to admit that I think about that too. After terror attacks, people like to talk about how we can't let the terrorists stop our lives. I agree in theory, but it doesn't mean that living our lives isn't sometimes tinged with fear.

I worry about airports and trains and subways, and movie theaters and concert halls, and large public gatherings - or "soft targets" - one of the worst expressions in the English language. My children don't talk about their fears of terrorism much, but every time there's an attack somewhere in the world, they are aware of it. We talk about these events without dwelling on them. But I know they digest more details than any young person should know. I can only imagine what those children and teenagers who have been part of or close to an attack have digested, the horrors they have seen with their own young eyes. The attacks that in some cases, have ended their young lives.

We were so lucky - we American children who grew up without those fears. The big bad Russians were out there - but we couldn't see them. They were akin to cartoon characters, especially as they were portrayed in films. We didn't endure constant reminders from Buzzfeed or The New York Times or CNN, or any other media sites that the world was at risk of blowing up. We couldn't see the face of an Orlando terrorist in his Facebook selfies. Or the smiling faces of a Texas family irreconcilably split apart on a promenade in Nice, an 11-year-old boy and his father mowed down by a psychopath in a truck. Or the images of a husband and wife team who went on a shooting rampage at a San Bernadino office party where employees knew their names and their baby.

Those faces and the names and bios attached to them are real. Children know that all too well.

My daughter was only three on 9/11. My son was due to be born that day, but thankfully, he waited for ten days. I sat in front of the TV that morning waiting for my husband to return from work in downtown Manhattan, which he did in the late afternoon. My daughter asked about the image of the burning towers on TV, as she took a brief break from playing.

"It's a movie," I told her. The next day, she caught a glimpse of the same image on the front page of The New York Times sitting on the kitchen table.

"Look Mommy, it's that movie you were watching," she said.

"You're right," I agreed.

We can only shield our children from the truth for a little while before they become old enough to see the terrible for themselves. But I wish they didn't have to grow up in a world rife with a brand of violence that is so evil and determined, so indiscriminate, and so omnipresent.

No child should ever have to worry about terrorists in their midst - in their neighborhood, in their school, or on their seaside summer holiday.

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