Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Memories of...

The hardest part of parenting for me is answering the ambiguous and abstract questions with the black and white concrete answers that children want. My favorite part of parenting is being taught by children the real importance of things that I make too complicated.

When we headed to the cemetery on Monday to pay respects to my grandpa and return to the place that I left my grandma just one year ago, I was faced by one question after another that I could not answer with black and white certainty.

"But what is war? Why do we have them?"
I come from a family that is very proud of its military history. I honor and respect each of the men for what they have and are still giving to our country. I understand the need for the military and the reality of the need (sometimes) for war. But the Artemis in me judges war as man's business. Not man as in the universal "mankind," but man as in the gender specific. Not because I think women should be excluded from the military, but because, let's face it, men start wars. And mothers, wives, and children pay the price. I'm not saying with any certainty that if women ruled the world it would be any different, but that is just theoretical. Women don't rule the world. Yes, there have been a few women who have started wars in history. very very few and very minor. Reality and history have only proven that men are behind wars. So, I let Chowder field this one.

"Are all of these soldiers in heaven?"
I'm hardly privy to St. Peter's big book, but I go ahead and wish them all in.

"Will they all come back on the last day?"
Again, my whole "Last Day" theology is a bit fuzzy and nebulous. So, I tell them that we are promised resurrection. Not fully knowing how I feel about that. (I HATE that.)

"So these are the good guys and they fought the bad guys?"
oh jeez.
Of course that's what we think, but there are families visiting cemeteries in Korea, Japan, Alabama, Iraq etc, who believe the exact same thing. That's the only way war can happen. Both sides have to believe that they are are the good guys, that they are righteous, justified and even backed by God. I refused to fall into this black and white trap here and know full well, even while I spoke, that my high-minded ambiguity was going right over their heads and probably boring them as well.

Luckily we reach section MM just in time. We got out to go looking for 1792. When we found it, Jellybean asked Chowder to read it. He did. First reading my grandfather's name, rank, service dates and awards, and then my grandmother's name. "Eleanor?!" Porkchop yelled in recognition. "That's like Baby Eleanor! Like our baby that is growing in your tummy!" Yes, I told him. That was Great-Grandma's name. The children stand around the stone a little longer all looking very satisfied with this. Then we walked back to the van.

As we drove through the cemetery, the children were awed by the number of graves and began speculating about the number of people buried there. Thousands, they determined. The Meatball, my very intense little fellow, was getting more and more upset as we drove.
"So many, Mommy."
"I miss them Mommy! I miss every one of them!"
Porkchop tells him, "You don't even know them."
"It doesn't matter. They are not here and I miss them!"
No ambiguity. No abstraction.
Just the simple concrete heart of the matter.


Jenni said...

What a sweet meatball you have.

Those are the hardest questions.

I LOVE that your baby's name is Eleanor. I hope I get to use the name myself someday.

gem said...

I find war questions very hard to field also. Thankfully, as we are not at war, they do not arise that often. It is not long ago however that we were dealing with a very long drawn out conflict however that still is a huge source of contention in our society as a whole and so the older ones do ask questions occasionally. Since this conflict related back to our war of Independance you are immediately into the subtle, for children, concept of the fact that paramilitary activity is wrong even if we may want the same ends. Ok, I'm rambling, time for bed!

Israeli Mom said...

I can really relate to this post, having to deal with war-related questions by my own kids too often.

The bad vs. good trap is the one that I try the hardest to avoid, and the one they keep getting back to. They're both boys, and right in the middle of the "Super heroes" adoration age. In their mind, people in wars are either super-heroes or arch-villains with no middle ground.

They get exposed here, in the news, to children hurt by war. Rockets on the southern settlements of Israel (fortunately, the only time a rocket hit too close to home, they were both sound asleep and don't recall a thing). They ask strange questions and come up with some even stranger answers!

I'll never forget how they once heard about the four Palestinian kids who were killed in an Israeli air raid while playing football (soccer). Do you know what their first question was? "Mommy, what happened to the ball?!?!". I mentioned that the tragedy was about the kids, not the ball, and my son replied, "don't worry mom, I'm sure the scientists will find a way to resurrect the kids and they'll be alright. But what happens when they're back to life and don't have a ball to play with?"

Melanie said...

Oh, Meatball! Your compassion chokes my up and squeezes my heart.

What a beautiful name for your little sweeting. It's my grandmother's name, too, as well as my angel baby's middle name.

Mel said...

Meatball has made his auntie Mellie cry all the way across the world. I love the way children just get it, get the heart of the matter.
Eleanor is a very smart name for Sweeting but I suspect Ellie will creep in.