War and tough questions
Updated: Feb 1
Sometimes kiddos ask you questions that you do NOT want to answer. Maya has an endless supply of those kinds of questions because…well, of course she does. Her curiosity knows no bounds.
Over winter break we flew down to California to be with my family. It was a long time coming (thanks Covid) and we played tourist - from exploring the desert to freezing by the beach. During one of our adventures, we happened upon the Palm Springs Air Museum and decided to check it out.
Not gonna lie, I don’t find looking at planes very exciting. The girls’ energy and excitement webbed and flowed, and I spent more time than necessary chasing after these two girls who thought wandering off was just fine. Spoiler alert: It was indeed not fine.
Anyway, I was sharing a historical tidbit with Alana when I heard Maya behind me pipe in, “What’s war?” That was a fair question. We were walking past displays of war planes, videos retelling stories of bombings, and photos of fallen soldiers. I tried to find the words to simplify the definition of war. How do you describe the legacy of violent conflicts?
I finally decided on: “War is when a group or people or a country fight another group of people or country. It can happen when there’s hate in people’s hearts.”
Whew, that wasn’t too bad…or so I thought. The next 45 minutes was filled with Maya’s curiosity about the images she was seeing and the stories Alana was reading out loud.
“Did they kill everybody?” [Wars hurt a lot of people]
“Why didn’t they just stop fighting?” [I don’t even know]
“Did this happen in olden times?” [Oh baby, this happened recently]
“Did the white people fight the brown people?” [It happens even now, when people don’t want to accept Black and brown people]
“Did the white people want to kill the brown people?” [I mean, yes, sometimes…....but in this one, they actually fought on the same side]
“Why did they fight together?” [...Because…maybe they believed in the same things…]
“Are we Holocaust people?” [No baby, we’re not Jewish but there are unfortunately people who still think that guy Hitler was right]
“Did a lot of people die?” [Yes baby, too many people died from his hate]
“Are people going to kill us?” [Oh no no baby. You’re safe with me and daddy]
“Is this the ship that had bombs?” [Yeah, this was a warship that had all those planes]
“Why did they bomb?” [Oh boy, let’s go find daddy]
I had to pause when Maya asked about whether white folks were going to kill Black and brown people. At the air museum, I hadn’t even mentioned anything about people’s races or ethnic identities. I was answering questions as generally as possible.
Was Maya always worried about getting hurt? Was she already worried that her brown skin made her a target?
The level of panic I had swimming in my head was starting to make me stumble through my words. Part of me wanted to save her from learning about the horrific things people have done in the name of whatever they believed in. Another part was just scared of giving her nightmares. And the loudest part was worried I was telling her all the wrong things.
Trevor had disappeared somewhere in the museum and I was silently cursing him for leaving me alone to describe war to our kiddos. In truth, I just really didn’t want to answer Maya’s questions. Question after question, I watched her face frozen in shock and concern. I knew she was trying to make sense of my words and was struggling to comprehend why anyone would have done such terrible things.
I didn’t even know! Trevor and I sometimes disagreed on what the girls should know and hear about. He didn’t want either of the girls living in fear; I thought it was best to be as honest as possible. But here I was trying to dodge Maya’s questions. Apparently I had hit a level of discomfort I didn’t know what to do with.
I just know that I found myself comforting my 5-year old and making sure she knew we were not in danger. Soon after, Maya was asking about lunch and I was glad to answer questions I knew I had a guaranteed answer to.
Maya hasn’t brought up war since our trip. I’m glad I chose to use simple language to talk about war with her, and that she was able to ask such tough questions to begin with. I have no clue if she still remembers our conversation or if she’ll bring it up when I least expect it.
In the meantime, here are a couple of articles I read waaaaaay after our time at the air museum. These at least gave me some new language and helpful tips if the topic of war ever comes up again.
Very Well Family: “Talking to Your Kids About War”
Today.com: “How to talk to children about war - an age by age guide”
How about y’all? Have your kiddos ever asked you about war? What did you say and didn’t say?