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  • Writer's pictureCourtney Heard

Atheist Life Hacks: How To Explain The Paris Attacks To Your Children Without Cultivating Hatred

My son knows all about Paris because his paternal grandfather is head over heels in love with the city. A couple of years ago, my father-in-law and his wife travelled to Paris and spent a month there. A documentary filmmaker, my FIL filmed hours upon hours of footage of the gorgeous city. He brought home with him bags full of goodies, including a delicate music box for my stepdaughter, and a tiny little t-shirt for my son with the Eiffel Tower on it. When my FIL edited his footage together into a beautiful short film, we all watched it and my son, excited, pointed out the Eiffel Tower.

Tour Eiffel - Paris

“That’s the Eiffel Tower! It’s on my t-shirt” He exclaimed. Soon after my FIL’s film ended, my little guy had us pulling up photos of Paris with Google Image Search. Then we were on Google Maps trying to find all the places Grandpa had visited. He appeared to be bonding with a city without ever having visited.

In the time since then, my son would often sneak into his sister’s room and take her French music box. He would sit and wind it up and listen to the French Can Can by himself. Long after he grew out of his Eiffel Tower t-shirt, he still thinks about Paris. Now, almost fluent in French, he has even more connection to the city.

So, it came as no surprise on Friday evening when he asked, “Did something bad happen in Paris, mom?”

“Yeah it did, sweetie,” I answered, choking back tears. I didn’t want to have to tell him this.

“What happened?”

How do I explain this? I thought. I don’t want him to be afraid. I don’t want him to fear certain types of people. I don’t want this to be the catalyst that sees him grow into a bigoted adult. I have to choose my words carefully.

“Well, a lot of people got hurt. There were some men who had weapons and they used them to hurt a lot of people.” I began.

“Why did they hurt them? Were they bad guys?” His eyes were wide, staring into mine.

“Some people would say that they were bad guys, honey, but mommy thinks they were normal guys who were told lies about how the world works, and they believed those lies.”

“What lies?” He trudged over and sat on my lap.

I explained to my son that the men who carried out the attacks in Paris truly believed that what they were doing was right and good. I told him that they had been told by many people throughout their entire lives, including their parents, that God would give them amazing rewards if they defended him. So, they defended God and they likely would not have done that, if they didn’t believe it was the right thing to do.

“Why would their mommies and daddies tell them those lies about the world, though?” His little head cocked to the side.

“Because the mommies and daddies believed them too, hon.”

“But we don’t believe in God, do we Mom?”

“I don’t sweetie. You can make up your own mind.”

“I know.” His missing teeth came into view when he smiled.

“It’s important not to be afraid, though, honey. Okay?” I told him that these sorts of things don’t happen very often in places like France, and have not happened at all anywhere near us. I assured him we are safe here, in our tiny little farming town nestled in the middle of Southern BC.

“Most people who believe in God, believe that God does not want them to hurt people for him. Did you know that?”

“No. ”

“It’s true. Most people who believe in God are good, caring people who make great friends.”

He nodded his little head.  “Mommy, did anyone die in Paris?” He asked after a long pause.

“Yes, sweetheart. Over one hundred people did.”

French Can Can Music Box
My daughter's music box.

His eyes widened, “One hundred? That’s sad.”

“Very much so, little dude.” I gave him a squeeze.

He was quiet for a minute and then he hopped off my lap and trudged over to the computer to play some games.

About 10 minutes later, I heard the sweet, tinny version of the French Can-Can drifting up from the living room. I peeked downstairs and saw my son sitting there on the couch, alone. In his little hands was his sister’s Parisian music box, which he was closely watching as it spun a happy little French tune.

I smiled and let him have his moment alone.

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