Tuesday, April 16, 2013


Thank you for all the texts, calls and emails that arrived from as far away as Brazil, Australia, Italy and Finland yesterday afternoon. Our family is fine.

The Grape and I were home when two apparently homemade bombs exploded at the nearby Boston Marathon finish line, because sunny spring holiday or not, the Grape needed a nap.

Had the Grape not required a recharge, he and I would have meandered down to the marathon finish line area (because of neighborhood geography, and routine marathon street closings, we would not have been on the side of Boylston Street that was bombed, but we would have seen the whole tragedy).

I heard the blasts, and felt some very mild reverberations. I didn't realize anything was wrong until sirens started wailing from all directions. (It would not have struck me as unusual for Boston to stage celebratory cannon fire on Patriot's Day, but now I'll never ignore a sound like that again.)

The Grape slept through the whole thing. I watched the TV and my Twitter feed in disbelief and disgust, answered calls and texts, and participated in a roll call of our circle of city friends. R. came home from work early.

When the Grape woke up, he shrieked with delight when he saw his school (located on the same block as the finish line) and the scores of emergency vehicles on television.

Oh, to be three and innocent.

He asked what all the fire trucks and ambulances were doing, and I told him the fire fighters and medics were helping people. I found out later yesterday that the late Fred Rogers counseled exactly this kind of focus during a tragedy: look for the people who are helping. Boston's first responders did a tremendous job yesterday. Neighbors who were at the scene said the triage and evacuation were as orderly as could possibly be expected.

The Grape asked if people were hurt and I said yes, but didn't elaborate and I switched off the news. He didn't press the issue, and soon went on with important toddler business, such as playing with his cars.

Today a few moms asked me what I plan to say to the Grape about the attack. My answer: as little as possible. I see no reason to bring up the subject, to shatter his innocence, since thankfully nobody he knows was hurt or killed. Had we known a victim, my gut impulse would be to answer questions truthfully, but with as little detail as possible, and not to prompt inquiries. I might have sought advice on the level of detail to share from a reputable professional counselor.

Modern childhood is short enough; I see no need to truncate it further by elaborating on events the Grape's mind cannot possibly process.

Still, we live two blocks from the largest roped off crime scene in Boston's history. The Grape has seen the news vans, the police dogs, the emergency personnel, the crime scene tape. He overhead a parent tell an elementary aged child that all those police "are looking for the bad guys." He asked me if that was true. I said yes, which satisfied him—and me, because it's the truth.

Really, what else could I say?

We don't know yet whether the attack was domestic or foreign, the work of a lone wolf or an organized group. Any speculation on the identity of the perpetrator(s) in the absence of proof is toxic enough for grown ups to indulge in, let alone for small kids. It's an unfortunate reality of the modern media age that when no facts are available, the pundits, and many reporters and bystanders, broadcast their personal speculations far and wide. Certain wing nuts stoke race based hate. I don't want the Grape around that kind of conversation or coverage.

I see nothing wrong with protecting a small child who can't yet separate fact from conjecture from the coverage. I don't care for high-drama post-tragedy television myself, and tend to look to the major newspapers' websites for updates.

So far, there aren't many.

We do know that the bombs were packed with nails and other shrapnel, designed to inflict maximum mayhem. The bomber(s) timed the blasts so that the streets would be packed with spectators cheering on a large number of runners.

We also know that similar improvised explosive devices are widely used in armed conflicts around the globe, and that they're not particularly difficult to manufacture. Detailed instructions are a simple Google search away for anyone with an Internet connection.

The Grape doesn't need to hear any of that. He doesn't know the words "bomb" or "terrorism." He doesn't know about guns or even swords yet. Weaponry isn't part of his world or his vocabulary.

Because he's three. And when you're three, I think you should receive horrible information on a need-to-know basis only.

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