Friday, July 19, 2013

Little Pitchers Have Big Ears

I'm raising a little boy. As such, his current obsessions include cars, trains and airplanes.  From watching their wheels go around while playing with cars and constructing a maze of tracks throughout the living room for trains to providing detailed (bi-lingual) descriptions of what one needs to do in order to fly on an airplane, Sidney spends hours fixating on these modes of transportation. Upon boarding a hydro-ferry recently Sidney saw the seat configurations and proclaimed that it was just like riding an airplane.  He really is such a boy!  In many respects this works out well for us since the lure of an airplane or train ride during an upcoming trip is enough to prod my otherwise pokey boy into picking up his toys, cleaning up his room, or even finishing his dinner.  (I am not ashamed to admit that, on occasion I will resort to bribery).  Yes, travel by any of these modes of transportation is just that exciting for him and we take full advantage of it.  Because of this, all is well until it just isn't any more.

During our recent trip to Greece our hotel was situated near the airport. While most people would probably be turned of by this, the location worked out well for us since it provided hours of anticipatory entertainment because you never knew when a plane would land or take off and you had to be on the lookout.  A routine quickly developed.  Sidney would first hear the plane then upon spotting it would shriek with excitement and point at the sky to inform everyone within ear shot of the airplane.  His excitement became a joke amongst our group and soon everyone was on the lookout for the next airplane.  During our final night on the island we were playing the same game during dinner.  At one point during the long evening a conversation a few chairs down from Sidney turned to the recent crash of a U.S. military plane in Afghanistan.  The voices were low and I was only hearing bits and pieces of the conversation while Sidney appeared to be focusing on eating his dinner (and playing with a match box car) so I didn't give the conversation much thought.  That was until one of our fellow diners spotted an outbound plane and alerted Sidney.

What did my airplane loving boy do? Instead of pointing and yelling with delight he looked at me with tears in his big blue eyes and informed me that it was bad and the people on the plane were scared. Using his hand, he then mimicked the actions of a plane taking off before abruptly changing direction and crashing onto the table next to his dinner plate.  All conversation around us stopped as we quickly assured Sidney that the plane and its passengers were safe.  He nodded and returned to his dinner but with the spotting of the next plane he again stated that the passengers were scared.  When this pattern continued for the rest of the evening and started again the next morning, I began to wonder how I could address this fear. 

As our (bad) luck would have it, later that morning our group toured the grounds of the Gjirokastra Castle which includes the remains of a 1950s era U.S. military plane.  Our English speaking guide shared the original story of how the plane came to be there (the Albanian military shot down the insurgent aircraft) then the real story (it had mechanical trouble and was forced to land). I don't know how much of this Sidney heard because he was focused on the "broken" plane in front of him.  Glenn and I quickly ushered him away from the wreckage but the image had already been set in stone in Sidney's young mind.  Once home, and still pondering how we should proceed with Sidney's new found fear, we made the mistake (?) of turning on the television to try to catch up on the news.  And what was the first image we saw?  Nothing other than the burned out wreckage of a crashed plane sitting on the runway at the San Francisco airport.  We quickly shut off the television but I fear it wasn't fast enough since Sidney was in the room.  Even two weeks out from our trip Sidney still talks about airplanes being bad, the broken plane, plane crashes, and people being scared.  As if this wasn't bad enough, in the same two weeks we have heard and seen stories about a freight train exploding in Canada and a commuter train crashing in Paris.  To my knowledge Sidney is still oblivious (I hope at least) to these incidents since, while he still likes to crash his trains while playing with them, he hasn't indicated that he is afraid to ride them. In fact, he even asked if we could take a train to Poland this fall instead of an airplane.  (The answer is no since Albanian trains really are that scary). We just need to make sure it stays this way.   

The old adage really is true.  You never know what children will hear.  No wait, I take that back because they hear everything.  My lesson from all of this?  Assume Sidney will hear and see it all even if he appears to be oblivious.  And now we have to figure out how to counter his newly found fears.  I know I can't shelter him from every tragic event and the day will come when I have no control over what he does and doesn't see and hear, but in the meantime I want to protect him. I want my airplane and train loving little boy back.  I want him to feel safe and excited about these modes of transportation.  Heck, if need be, I'll even join him in playing airplane for hours on end. 

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