We tell them that there is nothing waiting for them in the darkness, that we will keep them safe. They come into our rooms in the night when they wake from a terrible dream, seeking comfort. We brush the hair out of their eyes and tell them "Hush. Everything is alright. There is nothing trying to get you."
We read them story after story where the monsters turn out to be a coat rack with a funny hat, a stuffed bear sitting in a rocking chair, a tree branch blowing in the wind.
On the rare occasions where the monsters are real in the sense that they are creatures with horns, sharp teeth, scary faces, claws, we always discover that they were simply misunderstood. They have a change of heart and end up saving the protagonist from a raging river, from falling from a tree, from being lonely.
These are excellent stories with important lessons about friendship and tolerance. They help us to teach that the world is not such an awful place.
We tell them that there are no monsters.
But there are.
They don't have horns or claws or live in caves or under bridges, or in dungeons, but they exist. The world is not the awful place that the media often makes it out to be, but it is dangerous. We do our best to protect them, physically, emotionally, mentally, socially, but there is no way to completely protect them.
And we shouldn't be able to if there were. They need to be able to experience life and the only way to do that is with risk. A life without risk is no life, but we try to minimize it.
When bad things happen in stories, it's easy to explain with backstory. We tell them that this happened because the monster was left alone and no one treated him nicely. We tell them that no one gave him a chance to be friends.
The reality is much more terrifying and we have no way to explain it to them, or even to ourselves.
Bad things happen and there isn't always a reason. Sometimes it's because people get sick, or were treated badly. But there isn't always a reason and we don't know how to handle chaos for the sake of chaos.
Our reactions are rarely rational or expected, but in retrospect, they make perfect sense.
On September 11, 2001, I was at college outside of Pittsburgh. When the news announced that the plane had gone down in Somerset, my mother was frantic in trying to reach me. The crash site was 100 miles from me and I couldn't understand why she was so upset that I hadn't picked up the phone or called her back any quicker. I chalked it up to parental paranoia and lack of geographic knowledge. I never understood why.
On Friday, I understood so clearly that it hit me like a train.
On my drive home from work after the shooting at Sandy Hook, there were hundreds of cars in the way. Every light was red. Even at green lights, people were taking their time. At four specific points, I found myself having to resist the urge to smash my car into those in front of me just to get home and hug my children.
The shortest route between my house and Sandy Hook Elementary School is 404 miles. It wasn't far enough.