Like most people in the UK, over the last couple of days I have been glued to the news, Twitter and the radio. And as some of the violence has been almost on our doorstep, I have been very anxious about the security of my family.
Needless to say, nothing much gets past my two young, bright and impressionable kids. In fact, it’s got to the point where the eldest is beginning to fry my brain with endless questions. If I knew half the answers he expects of me, I could be the Met. Police’s chief strategist!
But I am, alas, just a regular punter… although I could teach David Cameron a thing or two about Public Relations!
So here I am, struggling to know how to explain it all to my kids.
I’ve always been clear in my own mind that, wherever possible, you should be honest with kids and explain things clearly. But what is happening in London now is so dreadful and the reasons behind it so complex, that frankly, it’s just not that easy.
My eldest is the most curious. This morning I could see a slight glint of excitement in his eyes. He knew something ‘big’ was going down. Something big, taboo, slightly exciting and a bit scary – all at the same time. Woah!
He sat with me watching BBC News. I wondered whether this was a good idea. But heck. He’s old enough to sneak upstairs and watch it by himself if we don’t watch it together. Needless to say, I missed half the reports because he was cross-questioning me throughout.
And I guess it’s just as well that we did watch together and discuss it, because by 2.00pm, I discovered there were plans to wreck our local shopping centre. And I needed to buy food.
So, we piled into the car and raced down the road, only to be turned away, because the whole complex was being closed. That would have been a hard one to explain if we hadn’t watched the news. But it also made it more real.
We returned home and I decided a distraction was needed. I took my friend’s two kids and we all drove off to an indoor play centre, where they could burn off some steam in a safe environment.
In the interim, my friend dashed off to the local health centre for an emergency appointment.
In the waiting room, she sat down next to two mothers with toddlers in tow. She couldn’t help but overhear their conversation about the riots, it went something like this:
“Well, I dunno ‘bout you, but if it woz my kids out there, I’d tell ‘em to get a telly or a Blu-ray.”
“Yeah! No point gettin’ clothes…”
Oh yes! They were actually discussing what they would tell their kids to loot from shops, if only they were old enough.
Despite her considerable back pain – or maybe because of it, my friend got up and left. She was too angry to even confront them.
As I drove home with four kids in the car, the conversation returned to the riots. All four kids were worried about what route I would take and whether they would “see anything”.
Fortunately, we didn’t. In fact, the roads were so quiet that we got home in record time and went straight up to my friend’s house for supper.
As planned, we ate quickly and got back home in good time. We were effectively imposing a curfew on ourselves. As I heard a siren racing by and the distant “thud thud” of helicopter blades, I double locked the front door and put the kids to bed - in the same room. They asked to sleep together because, frankly, they’re scared.
I put them to bed two hours ago and they’re still awake. They’re wondering whether someone is going to break into their house.
And what can I say?
When your kids have seen the front page of a daily newspaper and the image of a woman jumping from a burning building, it makes it hard to convince them that “everything’s going to be OK.”
Lets just hope that the police do a good job and get things under control. I’d like my kids to have faith in the police and to live in a society where I can tell them:
“Don’t worry, if you’re ever scared or get lost – just ask a policeman [or woman!].”
But the sad thing is, as I sit here now, I would hesitate to say that to them. I’m a law abiding, middle class mother, who fears that society has gone so badly wrong, that I really don’t know how this country is going to find a way out.
So, how do you explain the riots to children? Don’t ask me. I’m flummoxed.