My mom was right about (not) watching the news

I know that sounds strange coming from a journalist, but bear with me as I start at the beginning.

Growing up, my mom never watched the news. She didn’t read the paper, either, except for the announcements section to see the weddings, which I came to love doing as well. My dad, on the other hand, watched the news and read the paper every day.

Early on, I took after my dad. I don’t really remember watching the news, but I know I must have, and I also enjoyed true crime shows like he did. Remember the creepy host on Unsolved Mysteries? I watched that show All. The. Time. There’s no way I could watch it now. I also distinctly remember watching, with my dad, the documentary or re-enactment of Colin Thatcher’s murder of his wife, JoAnn. I would have been in elementary school. I remember my mom coming in and ushering me out before they actually showed anything, but I got the drift.

It would make sense, then, to become a journalist, so that’s what I did. And to her credit, when I worked at CBC Saskatchewan, MBC Radio, and now Eagle Feather News, my mom listened to and read every one of my stories if she was able. Even the awful ones.

In the beginning, the awful ones didn’t phase me. And in addition to covering them, I’d read mostly non-fiction books and watch documentaries about war. I remember watching Shooting Dogs with a friend at the Broadway Theatre. There’s a scene where a mom is hiding in the grass with her tiny baby. Her baby cries, so the Hutu militia find them and kill them. My friend (who is a mother) bawled. I did not. Now there is no way I could watch that film.

I hit a turning point at MBC. I covered three stories in one week about residential schools. One particular event was a screening of survivors telling their stories. An elderly man recounted being so scared at the school and soiling himself, and how he was held upside down out of a two-story window as punishment. I called my mom as soon as I got to my car, bawling, asking, How could we do this to people?

That week created a crack in my former steely resolve. It cracked further when I covered two murder trials, one where a man was convicted of raping and killing an Aboriginal woman, and the other of Curt Dagenais, the man convicted of killing two RCMP officers and trying to kill a third. The survivor’s testimony was haunting.

After that, I had to go to counselling.

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Fast forward to now, and I’m done. When every newspaper and news outlet was showing the photo of Alan Kurdi, the Syrian toddler who drowned as he and his family tried to escape to find a better life, my heart broke, as I’m sure yours did. I hugged my little guy closer. My husband, APB, said he refused to look. But how could you miss the photo? It was EVERYWHERE.

And now we hear a 2-year-old girl and her father have been murdered. APB told me, “Don’t read the story, don’t read the details.” And I haven’t, and I won’t.  I don’t need, nor do I want, to know. I knew it had happened because I went to Facebook to unwind and do something mindless like look at your photos, and instead I saw the headline shared 20 times.

And so now I understand. I totally get it. I used to say to my mom she was burying her head in the sand by not watching the news and not knowing what was going on in the world (although I would say my mom somehow did know what was going on anyway), and she said she was fine with that. And guess what? I’m fine with it, too. It only serves to break my heart into a million pieces.

The only positive that comes out of these awful stories is it forces us, in the case of Syria, to do something, which has always been my argument for watching/reading/telling the news. The only positive to come out of reading a story about someone murdering a 2-year-old is it makes us feel so grateful for our own lives, but we shouldn’t need such a horrible tragedy to practice gratitude.

Last night, and tonight, and nights moving forward, I told myself I would not complain or be upset no matter how many times my baby woke, needing to be comforted. At least he is with me and I can hold him in my arms, rather than only in my heart. May we all be grateful for what we have and practice love, patience, and empathy as much as we can each day…with our children, our partners, our friends, ourselves, and with strangers. That is how we will make a difference in the world. It’s not burying our heads in the sand, as I once thought, either. It’s making your immediate world, and therefore the rest of the world, a better place.

7 Comments

  1. I thought I’d comment here, rather than FB, because even if I leave FB I will follow your blog. You speak to my heart & APB was right to encourage you to share in this form.
    I have always been quick to cry – news, movies, Tim Horton’s commercials. When I was pregnant I mostly watched comedies. When B was first born I couldn’t watch TV because I bawled during a frequently aired peanut butter commercial. My husband used to watch the news & so I, incidently, did to. It was awful but now, being a mom, I can’t. I just can’t! The heartbreak lingers way longer. I thought it was just sensitive me but now o know how hard it must be for all mom’s. Thank you.

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  2. I can completely identify with what you have written here. Before I was a mom I could deal with violent movies and tragic stories in the news – I thought they were sad but never really gave it much thought beyond the few seconds I focused my attention on it. Now after having Miss E everything has changed. I too could not shake the image of the little boy that drown nor can I go about my day without thinking of little Hayley and how she did not deserve to be involved in such terror. It makes my heart break to hear of these two stories but even those words aren’t enough to convey the sadness I feel. As a mother I think it hits you at the core of your very being, it causes an ache that lasts days not minutes. It makes me hug my little girl harder and with more urgency and raw love than before. It makes me want to hold on to her and never let her go. I am relieved to read this post because it reaffirms to me that I am not overreacting, I am a mom and moms love with a depth beyond comprehension. Thank you for this post Darla, I really appreciated it.

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  3. Sometimes I feel so out of touch because I don’t watch the news either. I can’t. And yes, my FB newsfeed has been cluttered by the images, by people who “care” about the recent situations by sharing every post related to their memories. I 100% agree that they are awful situations and that children should never endure these horrors but people don’t realize that a lot of these posts are spammy, may have nothing to do with the actual situation (ie, “like farming”), and are brutal for some of us to see over and over. Before I had kids I used to watch Criminal Minds. Haven’t watched it in almost 7 years, don’t even know if it’s still on. I talked to a colleague about this once whose kids are now grown up. He said it’s not a phase because my kids are young, he said he still can’t watch those shows.

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    1. Thank you for this, Lyndsy. I, too, used to watch Criminal Minds…and CSI and Cold Case and Without a Trace. I stopped watching Criminal Minds because it seemed to me the majority of victims were women or children and I just found it too upsetting. One of the last ones was about rape. I asked myself, why am I watching this?! I enjoy the solving aspect of these shows but they are just too awful to watch, so I’m totally with you.

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