Notes from the Pandemic: Mentioning the Unmentionables

Jen Bradbury
May 30 · 5 min read

As a parent, I, like so many, want to shelter my girls from the horrors of the world. At 10-months old and 5-years-old, they are, after all, still so young.

Yet, the reality is that Hope (the 5-year-old) hears EVERYTHING… And she asks questions about what she’s hearing.

Her life has also been completely uprooted by the virus. She’s no longer going to ANY of the places that have become so integral to her young life.

Instead of going to school, she’s doing e-learning.
Instead of going to church, she’s watching it on TV.
Instead of going to gymnastics, she’s walking on makeshift balance beams during our daily walks.

Throughout much of this pandemic, I’ve struggled with how to talk to Hope about what’s happening.

How do I protect her from the many ways in which it feels as though life in the United States is unraveling?

A few weeks into the pandemic I found my answer when my husband, Doug, and I finally watched A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, which, by the way, we highly recommend. In it, Mr. Rogers says, “Anything mentionable is manageable.”

“Anything mentionable is manageable.”

That’s now my parenting mantra. 

That means that we’ve been openly talking to Hope about the virus. She knows that there’s a new sickness that’s making a lot of people sick and that in order to protect those we love as well as strangers, we’re staying home.

She knows that on those rare occasions when we see people, we have to social distance. And let me tell you. It’s a strange phenomenon to hear your five-year-old ask if it would be possible to see her BFF’s if she promises to wear a mask and social distance.

That means that when Grandma Nancy died, we used that language to tell Hope about it. We didn’t try to sugar coat it with platitudes like Grandma went to sleep or bad theology like Grandma’s an angel now. Instead, we told Hope that Grandma died and that we won’t be able to see her anymore and that that makes us really sad.

That also means that during weeks like this one, when racism, lynching, and looting have been in the news, we’ve also been honest with Hope about that. We’ve told her that this week, something unjust happened. A man named George was killed simply because his skin is darker than ours. And that this has been happening for a REALLY long time and that people have been sad and angry about that for equally as long. We talked to her about how people who, for so long, have gone unheard have finally turned to violence to get people’s attention. We’ve talked about how this makes us feel… And what we’re doing about it.

Sure, we haven’t told Hope everything. That's not age or developmentally appropriate.

Neither is not telling her anything.

So, instead, we’ve looked for ways to simply tell Hope the facts along with how that’s making us feel.

It’s been hard.

I don’t want to be having these conversations with my 5-year old daughter.

Yet, I need to.

More importantly, she needs me to.

Because as Mr. Rogers said, “Anything that’s mentionable is manageable.”

So we mention it…

And then together, we try to manage it and find our way through it.