How My Daughter Learned About War

Family Matters on 11.11.11
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Photo: Britt Reints

War isn't something many parents consider discussing with their young children. It's a complicated topic for adults, even in theory, and it's downright painful and scary when our country is actually in the midst of one (or two). My 6-year old and I hadn't had any long talks about war, the concept or the reality of it, until a visit to a museum forced me to tell her about the very real danger facing someone she loved.

We were at a natural history museum in Raleigh, North Carolina. There was an elaborate exhibit chronicling the state's contributions to past American wars. There were photos of atomic bombs and mannequins dressed in combat gear. My daughter made a reference to the "olden days" and without really thinking about it I blurted something about my sister being in Afghanistan.

"Aunt Lindsey is in a war?"

I saw the fear ignite in her eyes and immediately realized my mistake.

emma and lindsay

Emma and her Aunt Lindsey before Lindsey's deployment.

"Well, um... yes."

My daughter turned her blonde hair back towards the mannequin covered in camo. Her eyes watered.

"Is she going to die?"

I was stunned. I was torn. I wanted to do what parents do: reassure my child that everything would be fine. I wanted to promise her that her beloved aunt would be home soon. Perhaps if we had been sitting in a comfortable living room when this conversation came up, that's exactly what I would have said. Instead, we were standing in a museum, surrounded by proof that her aunt -- my sister -- might very well not be OK.

"She is very protected, Sweetheart. She has special equipment and clothing to keep her safe and our military is very smart." It was of little comfort to both of us, but it was the best I had to offer.

"Why did they send her there?" she asked, her bottom lip quivering.

"Because that's her job. Aunt Lindsay signed up to do this job. It's important to her to do this job, to protect our country and the people she loves who live here -- like you."

"I don't want her to die." Leave it to kids to get to the crux of it.

"I know," I told her, "I don't want her to die either."

The war came home for my daughter that day. The military was no longer something she saw in museums or parades, it became more than a uniform she saw in pictures. The Air Force was more than a cool job that her aunt had, more than a bumper sticker on her Papa's car. For the rest of her life, my daughter will know that every man and woman who joins the military faces the very real risk of death, of dying in order to protect someone or something.

May we all remember that this Veteran's Day.

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