The mom watches as her 13-year-old son stares up at the television. She reaches for the remote to turn off the news channel and its endless stream of images from the terrorist attack, but then she hesitates. “Do you understand what is happening?” she asks.
You want the truth about raising a compassionate American? I think you can handle it.
I have been to Paris once in my life. My husband attended a medical conference in Brussels and we planned a vacation around it, ending with a too-brief couple of days in the City of Light. We saw a risqué burlesque show the night we arrived and then strolled up the Avenue des Champs Elysées to the Arc de Triomphe. The next day we toured around the city and posed for pictures at the Eiffel Tower. After an exquisite dinner we walked hand in hand, and kissed on a bridge over the River Seine.
Later in our tiny hotel room overlooking a busy street with all-night revelers we were dismayed to discover that the pregnancy test we had packed and planned to take on our last night in Paris was missing. We thought it would be exciting to discover if we were about to embark upon that momentous adventure while in such a magical spot.
Waiting on the runway to return home, our flight was delayed. It appeared someone had checked a bag but then did not show up for the flight. Ground crews were extracting the bag from the plane. We were mildly interested and impressed with this move, but not alarmed. This was Labor Day weekend, 2001.
When tragedy struck on September 11th, shortly after our return, I clutched my belly and watched the television in shock. The elation at my newly confirmed pregnancy was now corrupted by the terrible understanding of what was possible in the world – in my world, in America. It made me sick with panic when I envisioned the worst-case scenarios. What would the future hold for my child?
It is hard to believe that the baby I was carrying back then is now thirteen years old. He has enjoyed a very privileged life - afforded in some part by his homeland, a place that is not overwhelmed by the horrors of war. I have found that my instinct to protect him is now tempered with a desire for him to know about what is happening in the world - how others struggle, how the heart of the mother is made in such a way that it breaks for all of the children who suffer in places near and far.
I don’t want to overwhelm my son with these realities but I also want him to be the kind of citizen who feels a pervasive human connection, even to those on the other side of the planet. I tell him the story of my Paris and how he was there, in a way, and how we now share in the grief of those anguished and hurting. The thing about empathy is that once you have it for others it becomes very difficult to turn a blind eye to their plight; I hope he will be inspired to try to make the world a better place. He is a lucky American boy, and the truth is . . . to whom much is given, much is required.
Want to get a better handle on raising a compassionate American? Consider connecting your kid to the local youth civic organization GenerationNation; gain a deeper understanding of the Paris attacks with this breakdown on the Syrian crisis from the BBC; and enjoy a song and dance from a happier time, courtesy of Gene Kelly, An American in Paris.