Yesterday as we drove to school I started talking to my 7 yr old about Veteren's Day coming up on Wed. We discussed what a veteren is and who we know who is a veteren and why we are thankful to them. It was a pleasant and fairly uneventful conversation. The one that followed though rocked me.
When we arrived at school the boys noticed the flag was half mast. My children know what a half mast flag means, they have for over a year. So the 4 yr old asks, "Mommy, why is that flag part way down?" I replied with what I usually have to say when we see it like that, "Because some soliders died, Honey." My kids being as observant as they are remembered that the flag was down last week for the same reason and asked, "AGAIN!?" I replied with, "No, guys, this is for the same soliders as last week." Again my boys are super observant and they know that usually when I answer that the flag is half mast because a solider died, the flag is usually flying regular the next day. I watched them starting to process it while we waited for our turn in the school drop off line. Suddenly my 7 yr old asks, "Did they die in Afganistan or Iraq, Mommy?" Again, I am open and honest with my kids about the WONDERFUL AND AMAZING AND SACRIFICAL job that our military does. We don't personally know anyone in Afganistan but we know of people there like a friends husband and another friends step son and my cousin is stationed in Iraq. We pray for them regularly and so the boys, particularly the 7 yr old is aware of the danger and the job. But back to my story.
After thinking for a moment if it was too much to share I answered his question. "No, Son, they died here in America on a military base in Texas." Quiet filled my car and then the question that rocked my day, "Mom, how did they die?" Thoughts flooded my mind as I quickly processed if I should answer that or not. Finally I said as tears welled up in my eyes, "Um, another solider killed them." The 7 yr old looked sad and slightly confused, the 4 yr old gasped loudly and said, "Was it a bad guy, Mom?" At this point we are the next car in line for drop off so I told my kids that I wanted to answer their questions but I wanted to give them the time and attention that they deserved for it so I promised them that I would answer any questions they had to the best of my ability after school. My oldest got out and walked into school and I said a silent prayer that God would give me wisdom to know what to share.
The rest of the day was uneventful. The 4 yr old completely forgot the mornings conversation and never brought it up again. I was shocked however when we pulled up at the school to pick up in the afternoon and my 2 yr old pointed to the flag and said, "Oh no! Solider die, Mommy. Sad." I thought for sure the 4 yr old would immediately pounce on that comment and start rattling off questions again but he didn't. No one mentioned it all evening long. I kinda thought that they had maybe forgotten. While I do think it is important to answer their questions, I also don't think that I need to direct their attention to it either, so I waited and said nothing.
Evening comes, I got the 2 yr old to bed with no issue, then got the 4 yr old to bed with no issue. As I think I'm about to get the 7 yr old to bed with no issue, he climbs up in my lap and says, "Mom, did that solider who killed the other soliders do it on purpose or on accident?" Deep breath, quick prayer and then I answered, "It was on purpose." More thinking and a very concerned look and he asks, "But why? Why would one solider kill another solider? Why did he do that?" The best way I could think to explain was to tell him that the solider was sick in his brain and he finally snapped and went crazy. The conclusion my son came to amazed me. He said, "Mom, I think that maybe he had been to another war and his brain got sick there and he was afraid to go to war again." How is it that my 7 yr old got that when few adults do?!? Now granted his was a rather imaginative way that the guys brain got sick, something along the lines of a bug crawling into his brain and laying eggs or something like that, but nonetheless, he got the concept.
The conversation ended with me telling him that there are more good people in the world than bad people. Yes there are bad people and people who do bad things but there are many more good people than bad people. He got very excited at this news and told me that means that the good guys will always win the wars if there are more good guys than bad. While not completely true, I loved his little boy logic! We discussed once again that God is good even when life is bad and then he went to bed with absolutely no issues.
As a mom, I so wanted to shield him from it all. I wanted to pretend that it never happened so that he wouldn't need to worry about it. I know though that burying my head in the sand will not make their questions go away. They are going to hear bits and pieces and I cannot possibly shield them from everything. Since I cannot shield them, I want them to get the information from me, told with grace and compassion rather than from the newscast or school. It was a difficult conversation, much more so for me than for my sons, but it was needed and important to them. Sometimes it sucks to know that I need to answer their questions to the best of my ability and in an age appropriate manner. Sometimes it sucks to feel so strongly unanswered questions don't go away, they just get bigger. And sometimes it sucks to have to tell my children hard truths. Thankfully I survived this one! Prayerfully, I'll survive the next one!