Talking to My Kids about War
Just after 6:30 a.m. on a gray February morning, Dylan, 9 years-old, fills a plastic bowl with Cap’ n Crunch.
He wears his catholic-school uniform–khaki pants and a navy blue collared long-sleeve polo shirt–and his blonde hair was combed to a swoop in the front. He looks like the poster child for a catholic school boy who values kindness and love and lives whole-heartedly by the Golden Rule.
He shovels sugary, yellow squares into his mouth and turns on his iPad. A man’s voice, feathered with a British accent, fills our kitchen:
“On February 24, 2022, the Russian army invaded neighboring Ukraine. Though the reason for the invasion remains unclear, it is believed that Russia felt that Ukraine posed a threat to Russian safety…”
“Dylan, what are you watching?”
His cheeks fat with cereal. His eyes fat with fear.
“Relax. You’re not in trouble. What are you watching? CNN? Fox? Youtube?”
Maybe I’m old, but I thought Tik-Tok was a place to post videos of silly dances, of dropping water balloons on your unsuspecting parents from your bedroom window, and of dogs howling to Justin Bieber songs. I didn’t know Tik-Tok had such global awareness.
The next morning, while eating a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Chase asks, “Dad, what is NATO?”
Before I can pull my phone from my pocket and google “what does NATO stand for,” Haley looks up from her bowl of Frosted Flakes and says, “North Atlantic Treaty Organization.”
She’s going to be 14 years-old and I suspect she might be smarter than me now.
“Dad,” Chase asks, “if a nuclear bomb dropped on the Phillies stadium, would we die?”
He’s 11 years-old and the cartography of his world map is marked with baseball stadiums.
“Yes. We would die.”
I sense curiosity. Shock. Dread. I expect another question but none comes. They finish their cereals in silence.
On Wednesday morning, Ash Wednesday morning– the day Catholics receive an ash cross on their foreheads to remind them they will die–Dylan, filling a bowl with more Cap’n Crunch, asked if President Biden (in his State of the Union Address) said anything about America going to war with Russia.
“No. He said America would help Ukraine but would not go to war with Russia.”
“Dad, do you think we should go to war?”
“I don’t know.”
“If Russia attacked our country, would America go to war?
“What would we do…you know, our family and Maggie?”
“I don’t know.”
“I saw a dead body on the news last night,” Chase says while eating a bowl of Golden Crisp.
Dylan asks, “Was it a kid?”
“No. It was a Russian soldier. His tank was hit by a rocket.”
“Dad, are kids dying?”
Again, I expect another question but there is none.
I don’t tell them I’m just as confused and concerned as they are.
I don’t tell them I regret they wake up thinking about war.
I don’t tell them their loss of innocence this week pads me with guilt.
I don’t tell them kids have been the sad collateral damage of war since the human race invented war.
I don’t tell them bullets don’t discriminate between adult flesh and kid flesh.
I don’t tell them an estimated 70,000 children died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki when America dropped an atomic bomb on Japan in World War II.
I don’t tell them, sometimes, when people suffer you can’t do anything to ease their suffering. That you can only stand by and feel the pangs of humanness and bare witness. I don’t tell them witnessing another human suffer is the burden of being human. The burden of believing in the Golden Rule. And I don’t tell them this is a hard lesson for children to learn. And it’s a hard lesson for adults to learn again.
As the early morning sun slants through the kitchen window, I listen to my children crunch their cereals. They’re all wearing their clean, catholic school uniforms. Their bellies fill with a sweet, American breakfast. They’re safe. They’re alive.
No matter the country, a parent’s fundamental job is to keep their child safe. Parenthood knows no geographical bounds. I watch the news and see Ukrainian parents holding their children tight. From my quiet living room to their bullet-riddled apartment there’s a primal recognition. An ancient responsibility to protect your child from all harm. Both foreign and domestic. To know this, to feel this, steals my breath. Like the world is suddenly short on air.
May the leaders of the world act with empathy.
May the parents of the world, in spite of the world, teach their children to treat others the way they would want to be treated.
And may the children of the world eat their cereal in peace.
Song of the Week: One by U2
If you would like to share something with others (a photo, a poem, a song, a quote, etc.) that tosses some positive vibes into the world, please send your suggestions to me at email@example.com. Thanks!
For those in the Philadelphia Area: A limited number of signed copies of Bedtime Stories for the Living are now on sale at Commonplace Reader in Yardley, Pennsylvania. The Commonplace Reader is a local bookstore with a wide selection of books, super nice employees, and plenty of cozy reading nooks.
Bedtime Stories for the Living
“This was an amazing book. Jay shares his journey through relatable stories that highlight the challenges every young parent goes through. His struggle with his own mortality while raising young kids only highlights the very real insecurities that we all have as we grow up and take on the responsibilities of adulthood. This is a great book for readers at any age to reflect on the challenges we face everyday and how we learn to overcome.”~ Steve, Amazon Review
If you happen to read BSFL, I would love an Amazon review! Due to some Jeff Bezos concocted algorithm, more book reviews lead to greater exposure. And greater exposure equates to higher book sales and as I wrote in BSFL, “college for three ain’t free.”
Are you a reader? Looking for your next good book to read or listen to? Check out my new page “Jay’s Book Shelf” for some book recommendations.
Here’s what I’m currently reading: Flashback Girl by Lise DeGuire
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A Conversation with Marcus Aurelius at a Suburban Car Dealership
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The Allegory of the Broken Cereal Bowl
We’re lucky to be alive
Why we need to tell our stories
Jay Armstrong is a writer, speaker, and a former award-winning high school English teacher. Despite being diagnosed with a rare neurological disease, that impairs his movement, balance, eyesight, and speech–Jay presses on. He hopes to help you find joy, peace, and meaning in life. For Jay, a good day consists of 5 things:
4. Hearing his three children laugh
5. Hugging his wife
(Bonus points for a dinner with his parents or a drink with his friends)
Jay hasn’t had a bad day in quite a long time.
You can also visit Jay at jayarmstrongwrites.com