Photograph: Writer's Own
"Are monsters real?" my daughter asked one evening.
Momentarily, I pondered upon my answer.
This could be a learning opportunity, I thought. We could talk about the fact that, yes dear, there are monsters in this world - horrifying ones, ones that obliterate innocent people's lives and ones that deliberately seek out to hurt our children. Of course, this wasn't my answer as my daughter is five. She doesn't know what happened in Manchester last week. Why would she? She's still so young and so innocent.
I told her no, of course monsters don't exist.
"What are the shadows in the night in my room?"
A chill ran through me.
Shadows that lurk in the night. Shadows that make that last train home unnerving; shadows that make you run from the sports centre door to your car after an evening gym session; shadows you spend your life trying to avoid even when you are doing the safest of tasks in your own house, your own street and in your own city. We shouldn't have to avoid the shadows and yet we do.
"It's probably the curtains," I told her.
"Do monsters only come out at night?" she asked, still pushing the subject.
Some do, I wanted to say. Some of the most cowardly monsters only come out at night because that's when we are at our most vulnerable; that's when our guards are down and that's when, sometimes, whilst we are out having the times of our lives, that for a moment we stop looking for the shadows.
Monsters must exist though because my daughter has learnt about The PANTS Rule in school at just five years old. She has been taught that her body belongs to her and if she ever feels worried that someone is encroaching on her body then she is to tell a trustworthy adult. I find this so desperately sad that she has had to be taught this at such a young age but at the same time, I support it whole heartedly.
"My bum belongs to me!" she told me after learning about The PANTS Rule the next day.
I smiled at the childish nature of the comment and yet I felt a like she had lost a little bit of her innocence that day.
We're in a dangerous world where monsters live and breathe among us. Innate evil exists, which is nothing new, it's just that our children are starting to notice it. They see it in us, their parents, when we won't leave them alone in our gardens in fear that something untoward may occur; they read it in stories that reflect modern life; they see it on the television as parents dare to click away from CBeebies just to catch a glimpse of another God awful event that has unfolded in the world and they see it in the eyes of the armed police officers who are currently patrolling our cities and public spaces.
Was I wrong to tell my child that monsters don't exist? Am I doing my children a disservice by not telling the truth? Wherever there is evil, there is also good and I should take every opportunity to talk about the good in people. In the minutes I took to read about last week's tragedy, all I have seen shining through my television and my phone screen has been goodness; it has left me blindsided. Never have I seen such an outcry of adulation for the UK public services as I have this week. Never before have I felt so proud of a community that has come together in love despite the rawest of all pains. They could have rioted and they could have wanted their revenge and we would have understood and yet the people of Manchester, they chose love.
In the past week, I have read articles by mothers telling their children to go out and live their lives but I also stumbled across a post by another mother telling her child that she's not so sure anymore that love always wins. I have read an article posted by a music loving father and daughter about the rules she promises to abide by when she attends concerts. Twenty years ago I attended my first concert at Manchester Apollo and the only rule my mum had stipulated was that I sat upstairs in the balcony.
I had the time of my life. As any fourteen year old music fan should.
My most sobering moment - when I learnt that the world was not as safe as my mum and dad would have me believe - was on September 11th 2001 when, aged 20, I had just returned from having spent my summer in a children's summer camp in Massachusetts and the Twin Towers came down.
That's when I really saw the monsters for the first time. To keep my innocence about the true horrors of this world intact until 20, well, I don't think that's bad.
However, for my daughter to be five and on the verge of losing her innocence about the world around her, well I think that's sad, incredibly so.
Last Tuesday, as I was waiting to drop my daughter at school, I was trying to listen to the news on the radio. My girl noticed that I was listening to something other than her with intent and she asked what it was I was so desperately trying to hear.
"Someone has hurt some people in a city not too far away from us," I tried to explain.
"Will they come here?" she asked, meaning our sleepy little village.
"No," I reassured her.
"I'll fight," she said. "Even though I don't know karate, Mummy, I'll fight."
Her innocence, once again, came shining through and yet simultaneously I saw it fading as she should never have to fight or even think about fighting. Not now. Not ever.
She should be able to just be a child.
As should all children, the world over.