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Talking to my son about the Boston Marathon: A mom reflects

The Nichols had to tell their 11-year-old son about the Boston Marathon bombings — he'd been upset when they hid the Newtown, Conn. headlines from in him December. Now, a day after the Boston Marathon, Martha Nichols mulls over their decision. 

By Guest Blogger / April 16, 2013

People stand by the barricaded entrance at Boylston Street near the finish line of the Boston Marathon in Boston, Massachusetts April 16.

Shannon Stapleton/Reuters


Sometimes, I hate this world. Or not the world, but its dangers and all that can hurt my son. On April 15, when bombs tore apart the finish line of the Boston Marathon, one of those dangerous tentacles got past me. I could see the green scales tightening around my child’s neck, the joyous light draining from his 11-year-old eyes.

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Guest Blogger

Martha Nichols is editor in chief of Talking Writing, an online literary magazine. She lives in Cambridge, Mass., with her husband and 11-year-old son. She blogs at Athena’s Head.

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This morning, he and my husband and I listened to the news. My son said he was glad we’d told him — even when we showed him the “Marathon terror” banner on the front page of the Boston Globe, complete with graphic photo of a victim, rescue workers, a sidewalk that looked spray-painted red. He’d been furious when we hid the headlines about Newtown after it happened. He’d insisted last December that he wanted to know.

But I’m still wondering if I told him too much about the Boston bombing, if it was wrong for him to find out just as I was finding out, my response unprocessed and far from an ultra-rational “teachable moment.” Sometimes, ignorance really is bliss. It is our Garden, the one we walk through every day with a child.
Before we knew, I picked up my son at his vacation camp. No school this week. Patriot’s Day, the Marathon, the streets around us sweetly and strangely empty. We strolled home through our Cambridge neighborhood, carrying the candles he’d made that afternoon. It was brisk and sunny, daffodils and hyacinths bursting free along the curbs.

We stopped at a local market for a snack. By then, as I found out later, the bombs had gone off in downtown Boston. In Copley Square, across from the Boston Public Library, places we’d visited many times. But at the store, nobody told us. My son chattered cheerfully about his candles, as the kind woman at the register asked about them, wanting to know if they could float.

Then back out into the spring day, walking the last blocks toward home, past beds of dying crocuses, more daffodils, and the first tulips. Even before I unlocked our front door, I was savoring the nap I needed.

My son would have his snack (Doritos and orange juice), work on the story he told me he was writing, play his Lego Lord of the Rings game on the Wii. I could close my eyes and disappear, because we were home. For a few moments, I didn’t have to worry.

When I woke from that nap, I learned that wasn’t true. I can’t claim prescience. I didn’t wake up knowing something terrible had occurred. But it’s also true that I was still groggy when my husband arrived home a few minutes later. By then, I was sitting in my downstairs office, about to check my email.

“Don’t you know what happened?” he asked.

“What?” It was shadowy in my office, which faces east, the maple trees in back just starting to bud. I felt a scratching claw inside my chest.

He told me. Raw information. I didn’t understand. I peppered him with questions, wanting details, not wanting details.


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