The religious politics of parenting
After getting home late from a birthday party, K parked herself in front of the tv while I got Matan ready for bed. I admit to negligence. Without me noticing, Karen began watching King Arthur. It wasn’t the Disney version. Bedtime brought crying and fears about war. She’s never brought it up before, and tonight she asked me what will happen if King Arthur doesn’t come back to save us. Found myself telling her not to worry, we weren’t waiting for King Arthur, and the Messiah will save Israel. I don’t even know where I was coming up with the bullshit I spewed at her in a vain attempt to calm her fear about “what if war comes to Israel”. What if? As if. And for the record, I hold a generally Buddhist view of life and death, and have absolutely no faith in a Messiah. Buddhists believe in saying it like it is, and not holding back the painful parts. But how much do you tell a child who doesn’t have the training to deal with the reality of suffering? My instinct was to protect her from worrying about war and “what if my friend’s big brother dies in the war?”. The boy is 9, and in scouts. He is years away from army service, but Karen has heard that scouts prepares you for the army, so assumed it meant he was military, in some way. It’s amazing how children build entire stories out of the little bits they hear. As a kid, I remember hearing about guerrillas, the terrorists of the early 70’s, and thinking they were talking about zoo animals. Took me years to figure that one out.
This is a hard topic to discuss with children in Israel where they have all been drilled in civil defense protection and war is a reality.
I know of many children affected by the wars and terror attacks, but during the height of the Second Intifada, we were still childless. Even in 2005, with the Lebanon war when DH’s family came to stay with us for a few days when the Haifa area was shelled, we didn’t have children. While we saw the pain of nephews who experienced the ground shaking missiles hitting nearby, it didn’t seem real to me. Somehow, having my six year old worry that war will come to us (her words) made everything suddenly clear, yet unexplainable. I was tongue-tied. What do you say to a six year old, when she is likely to hear at some point of military events within spitting distance. Considering history and the current dis-ease in the Middle East, there’s a pretty good chance she will eventually also suffer through the panic of hearing the explosions of missiles.
I no longer know what to say to adults about the possibility of war, and the vain hope for peace, so how on earth to explain it to a child in a meaningful way?
Yes, I know that Palestinian families face even harder explanations for their kids, but I don’t have first hand experience. I can only write what we experience. I’ll leave Palestinian bloggers to write their half.