Not long ago, there was a bomb scare in Park Slope. It wasn’t on the news or on the radio — heck, what’s a bomb scare in New York City anymore? — but in the Slope, it was a major incident.
Eighth Avenue was closed for more than five hours. People weren’t allowed onto Carroll Street, Union, or Berkeley. Oddly, they didn’t evacuate the buildings, they just wouldn’t let people go home.
In the late afternoon, Smartmom saw two-dozen police officers on the corner of Second Street. “Look for anything unusual,” she heard a sergeant say to her troops.
“What’s going on?” Smartmom asked, feeling her heart begin to pound.
“They found some suspicious packages on Eighth Avenue,” an officer told her.
Then she heard police sirens, ambulances. The Bomb Squad was there. Even a bomb-sniffing robot (good nose, apparently). Smartmom had a knot in her stomach. Here we go again, she thought. Right in Park Slope.
When Smartmom got back to the Third Street Cafe, otherwise known as the front yard of her apartment building, she was surprised that everyone already knew all about it.
“Yeah, there’s a bomb scare,” Mr. Kravitz said cynically. “They found some suspicious suitcase.”
Nobody seemed very upset.
“Tell me, what constitutes a suspicious package in this neighborhood?” asked Mrs. Kravitz.
Mr. Kravitz had the punchline: “A member of the Food Coop carrying a Fairway bag. Now that’s a suspicious package.”
Everyone laughed. The knot in Smartmom’s stomach loosened a bit. But the Oh So Feisty One, who had overheard the conversation, wasn’t in on the joke.
“Mommy, what’s a ‘bomb scare?’” she asked. Smartmom was hoping she wouldn’t find out about it. She tries to shelter her from as many of the grotesque realities of contemporary life as she can, which isn’t easy, considering there’s been a dead body on the front page of the New York Times every day for two weeks.
Plus, OSFO can detect trouble in an instant; must be Smartmom’s body language.
Smartmom picked her words carefully. This is one of those moments in every parent’s life — like the first time your daughter finds your tampons — when saying the wrong thing actually matters.
Smartmom told her that the police were worried that someone, a very bad person, may have left a bomb in a suitcase.
“A suitcase? Why would they leave it in a suitcase?” OSFO asked.
Good question. Smartmom told her that this bad guy might have put it in there to make an explosion. Oy, Smartmom felt herself getting in deeper and deeper.
“But why would someone want to cause an explosion?”
And so it went. Smartmom tried to play it down, but she also likes to be honest with OSFO.
A little over a year ago, OSFO heard reports about the London subway bombing on NPR. Needless to say, she had a lot of questions. How do you adequately explain to a child that someone wants to cause an explosion that will kill hundreds, even thousands of people? With difficulty. And sadness.
Teen Spirit at 15 is well attuned to some of the harsh realities of the world. An avid listener to NPR, he has a fairly broad sense of what goes on beyond the confines of his rather idyllic urban existence.
But at 9, OSFO’s understanding of the geo-political world is still quite vague. Geography is an abstract concept, despite the more than 100 globes Smartmom and Hepcat, collectors of vintage globes, have in the apartment. “Far away” is Queens or New Jersey where school friends have relocated. Even farther is California, where her grandmother lives on a farm.
OSFO was only 4 on September 11. She barely understood what was going on. Early that morning as news of the attacks came across the radio, OSFO was playing in the kitchen. Smartmom tried to quell her own anxiety, her sinking sense that the world was coming undone by polishing OSFO’s toenails pink while listening to the radio; an effort to make things feel normal on that most un-normal of days.
Later on, OSFO watched the attacks over and over on the television in Mrs. Kravitz’s apartment where everyone was gathering. The grown-ups were too distraught to even notice that the children were watching it again and again.
A few days later, OSFO told Smartmom that she dreamt that her Barbie doll crashed into a tall building causing a terrible explosion. Later she learned that her friend’s father, a firefighter, had died.
OSFO and Teen Spirit were born into a scary world. Still, Smartmom’s children want to believe that there is inherent goodness and innocence in it. They cling to a seemingly in-born belief that good will triumph over evil.
The bomb scare in Park Slope turned out to be a hoax — a homeless man leaving his suitcases in various garbage pails.
But what about when it’s real? How do you parent your children during a crisis when you’re freaked out yourself?
At the Third Street Cafe, everyone got a good laugh over the incident.
But OSFO, christened by her experience on 9-11, still seemed a little nervous. She kept asking about the homeless man who had caused all the trouble.
“Is he going to be all right, mom?” OSFO asked. “Is he going to be okay?