what Osama bin Laden’s death means to an 8-year-old

My three children, all New York City dwellers, had only the slightest understanding of what 9/11 was. 

Until today, when I had to explain to my oldest child why everyone was so happy that our president had ordered someone killed.

Anyone else find this photo, by Pearl Gabel for the New York Daily News, a little troubling? 

These are two eight-year-olds from Houston, up way past their bedtime in Times Square, holding signs (clearly not scrawled by them) saying “Yeah Osama is Dead!” You can see it in the face of the girl on the left: I don’t get this, but well, the grownups seem psyched. 

It’s not the up-past-bedtime part that bothers me, so much as teaching kids who can’t possibly understand the import of the moment– and who SHOULD not understand– to jubilate. I think it’s a moment to savor, sure. It’s a moment to reflect on and honor everything that’s happened in the last ten years, and all of those who have died. But I don’t think it’s a moment that these children should participate in. 

Two miles away from where that photo was taken last night, my children were nestled all snug in their beds (as was I, asleep before 10:30). It wasn’t until my husband checked his bedside BlackBerry at 6:15 a.m., and shook me awake, that I first heard the news.

And it was a morning you just *have* to have the news on, right? (Kind of like last Friday, for an entirely different reason.) But I paid the piper when my own eight-year-old came out to the kitchen and stood silently behind me as the talking heads railed on about what a great thing this person’s death was for America. I could have changed the channel, but he’d seen. And I knew kids would be talking about it at school. I wanted him to hear it from me first. 

First I had to explain to him that Obama really did the right thing in killing this man. Then I had to explain just what it was that he did that was so horrible: killing three thousand people in our own city. That was why people were rejoicing in Times Square. “When people talk about 9/11, that’s what they mean,” I said, watching the new understanding of evil creep across his face.

“But how did he kill all those people?” my son asked, his face crumpled. 

Was I supposed to explain about the airplanes as bombs, the poor people holding hands on those flights, the jumpers from the towers, the 377 firefighters who bravely climbed to their deaths?

I couldn’t do it. 
“He had helpers,” I explained, turning the television off. My son let me leave it at that. 

My son is still young. He sees things as black/white, right/wrong. He thinks harming another soul is never, ever justified.
Or at least he did until today.