What I keep thinking when the subject turns to Newtown is that childhood is often remembered as a time of joy and innocence, but it's a time of terrible fears and great frights, too. The young are darkly imaginative.
I knew a 5-year-old girl who was so afraid of ET that when she saw a picture of him she'd scream. A friend, a sturdy American journalist, remembered being a child of 6 or 7. "I had monsters in the closet and under my bed. They walked across phone wires into my bedroom window, they slithered up the sides on my mother's car. Sometimes they had tall pointy heads."
At 7 or so I developed a fear so deep it kept me from sleeping. One night when the moon was bright and the wind was moving the trees, I looked from my bed into the shadowed closet . . . and suddenly the clothes and the things on the shelf above had transformed themselves into Abraham Lincoln, in top hat and shawl, staring at me and waiting to be shot. That fear came every night for years. At some point a neighbor saw my nervousness or overheard my obsession, asked what was wrong, came to my house, opened my closet and announced triumphantly "See? Lincoln isn't there!" I knew she meant well, but how dumb can you get? Lincoln only came at night.
A friend, a seasoned lawyer, also was afraid of monsters in the closet, and of "Blackbeard's ghost materializing in my room at night, from some pirate movie I saw."
His son, about the same age now as the lawyer when he was hiding from Blackbeard, also has childhood fears. He told his father he's glad he's at his grade school because "the middle school is only two stories and it isn't safe." He can't wait to get to the high school "because it's next to the police station."
After Newtown, I'm not sure we know what we're asking of children when we tell them to go to school after this week of terrible images and stories, after hearing "another school shooting" on the news. They all know what happened, or have the general outlines. And children are scared enough.
"What's so terrible for the little kids who hear about Newtown is that the 'dream' monster is now real," said a friend.
Tragedies are followed by trends, and we know where the conversation is going--gun control, laws for the incarceration of the mentally ill, help for parents with unstable children. But I have a feeling there will be another trend beginning, that it will be slow but long-term: more home schooling. Because more parents aren't going to want to send their kids to school now, and more kids will not want to go. It is a terrible thing to lose the illusion of safety.
Source: Wall Street Journal | Peggy Noonan