Russell and I left for our honeymoon on April 14. This is also the date the Titanic hit the iceberg almost a hundred years ago. Once I made that connection, it was kind of hard to forget. Perhaps this is why my daughter responded so deeply to the transatlantic tragedy that she just recently learned about.
We all went to Barnes and Noble this afternoon, because it is Sunday and that’s just what we do on Sundays. We love to have a decadent snack in the cafe (split five ways now) and then essentially camp out in the B&N, Jr. section until someone displays behavior that suggests a nap is needed. Sometimes, that is my husband. Anyway, during our marathon visit this afternoon, Poppy was drawn to the dozens of books on the shelf written just for children her age to understand the fate of the unsinkable ship and the 1500 people who died in the chilly waters in the North Atlantic ocean so many years ago. While I think it’s important for the kids to know about the Titanic, of course, I wasn’t prepared to have to go into so much…detail. Since the glossy books had so many beautiful illustrations, such as life boats swinging precariously from the sides of the ship, Poppy had lots of questions. She wanted to know, but she didn’t want to know. The proverbial train wreck from which she could not avert her eyes. She sat on the bench with her little hands folded in her lap looking solemn and attentive. Several times, I had to get up and chase Little Bug around the entire perimeter of the store while she happily and loudly narrated, “Running! Running!”. When I finally corralled the baby back into the confines of B&N, Jr., I found Poppy still sitting in the same spot, still studying the same pictures in the book. She picked up right where we left off. “So, why didn’t the captain want to get off the boat? Why did they want to play music at a time like that? Did all the babies make it off the ship?” I assured her that most of the survivors were women and children. This was not good enough. “But, did all the children get off the boat?” she pressed. I replied, “The mamas and the daddys made sure to get their children off the boat first.” I dared not read aloud the page that explained only half the children made it off the boat because so many of them were in the third class cabins below. I dared not. She and I were both haunted by the images of that tragic night. Page after page, she asked difficult-to-answer questions. I didn’t want to lie, but I didn’t really know if I should tell her the whole truth either. She was able to piece most of the story together herself just by looking at the detailed illustrations. We sat for a long time just looking at those pictures. It reminded me of a long moment of silence. I could tell that she was really moved, perhaps in a way that she had never felt before. By the time her brother and father joined us on the bench, Poppy was quietly sobbing. She was overcome. She kept saying, “I’m so sad, Mommy. This makes me so sad, Daddy.” She elaborated, “I keep wishing this was some kind of story, but it really happened. All these things really happened to real people.” I hugged her hard and agreed that it was a terrible, awful thing that happened. Then she started to get kind of angry. “Why did they use cheap rivets? Why were the binoculars locked away? Why didn’t that man reading the telegraphs stop the boat?” She was genuinely mad that this historic tragedy could have been avoided. I wasn’t quite sure how to channel her emotions, but I thought it was healthy for her to have them. I’m proud that she feels deeply and that she is empathetic and compassionate. I would certainly rather her exhibit these traits than not. I felt like she wanted to do something for the people who didn’t find their way to a life boat, but she and I could hardly think of what.
When we got home from the store, I got online to do a bit of research. I found the website for the Titanic Historical Society, the world’s largest Titanic organization, located in Indian Orchard, Massachusetts. They are planning a memorial service next month to remember and honor the victims of the ill-fated Titanic. The kids thought it would be nice to draw pictures and write a note to send to the families who will be in attendance. I have no idea if their efforts will be opened, read, or shown to anyone outside the mail room, but I think they felt good about expressing themselves on the matter. They each drew a picture of how they thought the Titanic looked during those last few hours and then wrote a brief note on the back. Poppy’s says, “I am so sad for all those poor people.” Charlie’s reads, “The Titanic was a good old ship even though it sank.” I promised to put the letters in the mail tomorrow.