Teens, tots, and terrorism
Area mothers help their children grasp the images, effects of the New York, Washington attacks.
By LAURIE M. FISHER
In the wake of Tuesday's terrorist attacks, Lori Ezzo, like many mothers across the Valley, found herself trying to balance the reality of the unknown with parental assurance that her children remain safe.
Her experiences and those of two other mothers in the Youngstown area reflect the difficult truths families are facing together.
"After today your life is never going to be the same, because it isn't," she said she told her son, Greg, 15, and a freshman at Liberty High School, and daughter, Kimberly, a seventh-grader at St. Edward's school.
"I wish I could give them the answer, but no one really has it. As a parent you are so used to trying to be encouraging and optimistic. Yet you have to have a balance of reality because you really don't know. We owe it to our kids to be honest. Especially with older two," she said. She talked with her youngest son Nicholas, 5, on simpler terms.
"You have to know what your kids can handle. Some are more sensitive and need reassurance," she said. Nicholas had trouble sleeping. She thinks he was confused, scared and insecure. "I reassured him that he would be safe at school," she noted.
Kids' intuition: Kids are sensitive to signals from their parents. Ezzo said she picked up Kimberly at school Tuesday, and her daughter immediately knew she was upset. Ezzo hadn't located a family member who worked near the Pentagon. They found out four hours later he was safe.
"When you know someone directly affected, it hits you even more," Ezzo added.
The two oldest had watched events unfolding on television at school. Ezzo said she continued to watch the coverage with Greg and Kimberly, but restricted the visual images for Nicholas.
"Greg wants to know 'what does this mean, how does it affect us, do we have to protect ourselves at home?' " she said. "He feels compassion for people in New York City. He wants to know if we have to prepare. He is concerned about his family's safety."
Community support: On Wednesday all the children and some parents attended mass at St. Edward's Catholic Church in Youngstown. "Father Leonard's readings and songs were chosen to emphasize peace." Ezzo said. "He said how important it is to be kind, and all this starts by people hating other people. There is nothing we can do to help [the victims' ] families. What we can do is love one another," she said was the message of the mass.
Ezzo observed that the expressions on children's faces during and after the services indicated that the prayer was helpful.
"There is still an atmosphere of sadness. In our faith we are told that out of heartache and tragedy comes something good. Prayer is not only for the loss but what good is going to come out of this," she said.
Away from home: The Liberty mother acknowledged that her children might hear some inappropriate reaction to the terrorism at school.
"A lot of people are going to say a lot of things. Remember we are all Americans regardless of race or religion; we can't discriminate at this point. We have to say we are not going to tolerate attacks of fellow citizens," she said she told her children.
"We need to send out a message of being united. The last thing we need to do is start pointing fingers at people of the same ethnic backgrounds as the attackers. That is unjust. Other Americans shouldn't be accused or punished."
Other families: Amy Davidson of Canfield agrees that parents need to be honest with their children. The Forum Health outpatient oncology nurse was working when the news broke.
"I was concerned how school would handle it. They did let them know what happen and see some things on TV. But that's OK. It is better to be honest about what's going on. Children tend to make up things that may or not be true."
While she didn't talk to her 10-year-old son David Constas during the day, she was worried about his reaction. "I was concerned how upset he may be. He was angry that this had happened and wanted to know who had done this to American people. The sadness came a little later."
As mother and son watched things unfold, Davidson said she became teary-eyed when she heard about the fate of fireman and police.
"David was interested in bin Laden. He wanted to know if we were going to find out if he was the perpetrator. He was thinking about if we were going to go to war. He did not [express] concerns for personal safety; I was surprised at that, too," she added.
When Davidson told her son how a friend was diverted in a plane because of the attacks, "it hit close. It was someone we knew." Then he realized the terrorism is going to touch everyone in some way.
Explanations: She said her son went to school Wednesday and wasn't worried. "I thought maybe that might be the issue and that wasn't. Children in the neighborhood wanted to know how could this happen to us," she added.
Davidson said it was hard to answer the questions of the children. "There is no way of telling why people do this. We may never figure out why they do this to us. We just have to learn from it and go on." She said she tried to explain that the terrorists believed their act was the ultimate glory.
"You have to be good to people all the time," she said she told her son. "Just as good people are struck down with cancer every day, you need to live to the fullest as much as you can," Davidson emphasized.
Understanding: Denise Malvasi of Girard, also an oncology nurse at Forum Health, found herself trying to reassure the oldest of her three young children, ages 8, 5, and 3. "The two young ones were clueless," she said.
Nicholas, a second-grader at St. Rose school, learned during the day that "something bad happened in New York."
He had nightmares and complained of stomach pains, Malvasi said. "I told him nothing is going to happen near home. I needed to reassure him," she added.
Malvasi said she and her husband debated whether he should be allowed to watch television. "I believe it is better to let him ask me questions. Kids will be talking on the bus and at school. I'd rather him watch with me to answer his questions. Maybe I can guide him so he isn't so afraid," she said.