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A Not-at-All Non-Fictitious Convo w/ My 4-yo About Terrorism

Sitting at a coffee shop, my kiddo eats a donut while I glance at the Saturday newspaper.

Daddy? What’s that picture? (pointing to the cover of the NY Times.)

Something terrible happened, buddy. In Paris.

What happened?

Some people we call terrorists took guns and shot at many other people.

Is that why lots of people are saying ‘Pray for Paris’?

Where did you see that?

On your Facebook feed.

You don’t even know the code to my phone.

That’s what you think.

And you can read?

If I see something written over and over and over and over and over again, I get the gist.

You’re a smart 4-year-old.

Yep. So that’s why people are saying ‘Pray for Paris’?

Yes.

Why do people say that?

Because…um…they don’t know what else to do.

Do they really pray?

Eh. Some do.

Not everyone?

I don’t think so.

Why do they say it?

Um…I think it makes them feel better.

Do you say it?

No.

Why not?

Because…I dunno. Praying is private, for me. Also, I think lots of people feel absolved of responsibility after saying ‘Pray for Paris’.

‘Absolved?’

It means…oh, geez…it means I think many people pray instead of taking action.

And what does ‘responsibility’ mean?

Um…it means you should always listen to your daddy, stop whining, and share your donut.

Oh.

(He looks at his donut and hands over a miniscule crumb.)

Princess Aurora wears a pink dress.

Oh, yeah?

Yeah. And terrorists shoot people?

Sometimes.

They’re bad guys?

Yes. Well, I mean…they do bad stuff.

Like Lady Tremaine?

Much worse, buddy.

So they’re bad.

Yes.

And we are good?

Yeah. I mean, well, it’s complicated. The world isn’t just bad people and good people.

Like Batman?

Right. In books things are simple. But real life is not so easy to understand.

Ok.

(He takes a bite of donut. I’m salivating. Why didn’t I buy two?)

They just wanted to be mean?

Yes. And, well…they have their reasons.

Like they were mad when they got no cookies after dinner because they didn’t finish their kale salad?

That’s sort of right, buddy. And they’re desperate.

What’s that?

Like…they don’t have food or clothes.

Or toys?

Right – or toys – they get frustrated and angry. And then they listen to other people who tell them what to do. And those people are bad and tell the desperate people to do bad things in the name of religion.

What does ‘in the name of religion’ mean?

It means…(I sigh and rub my brow)…you should listen to Daddy, stop picking your nose and never hit your brother.

Bad guys pick their noses?

What have I created, here?

Huh?

Buddy, I think most of the terrorists really want to have a home and food for their families.

Why do they do bad things?

Um…maybe because it makes them feel strong? (Can I please just flip through Facebook, again?)

I’m strong.

Yes, buddy. You are.

He takes a sip of his water and finishes the donut. I steal a glance at my phone.

Who took their homes and food?

Huh? I look up.

The desperate people. Who took their homes and food?

Um…colonialists and corporations.

Who are they?

Well…actually we are. Or…we were.

Are we bad?

Uh…Omg. How did I get here?…no. We aren’t bad. But…we’ve made some bad choices over time.

You did?

Um…well, yes, but that’s beside the point.

Like when you stepped in dog poop?

Sort of.  But our country has not always made the best decisions.

So…we should pray.

Well…I guess. I chuckle. I’m befuddled.

And praying can help?

Well…yes. Or…maybe?

Because it ab-, um…ab-…uh…

Absolves?

Yeah.

Right. I think we should pray for strength and wisdom.

Huh?

I’ll explain that another time. After our prayers, we do something.

Like go to the playground?

What?

You say you’re ‘desperate to get outside,’ so we go to the playground. Remember that?

You’re right, buddy. Good memory. But I think people could do other things, too.

Like what?

Honestly?

Of course, daddy. That’s the most important thing – that you be honest with me. I promise not to give you a time-out if you’re honest with me.

Wow. You’re really grown up.

I follow your lead, Dad.

I didn’t put those words in your mouth, at all. Let’s see. Things we can do? Avoid gas-guzzling cars, realize our inexpensive clothes and electronics are produced by under-paid workers, and – most important – don’t vote for stupid leaders who can’t think beyond black/white. We need to understand that every economic decision we make reverberates around the world. Also, we all should read more newspapers instead of Instagram feeds. We need to think more and know that our country is not an island separate from the rest of the world. That would make us better global citizens.

Seriously, Dad – what the fuck are you talking about?

Okay. Think about this…isn’t your class at school more fun when everyone shares, takes turns with the blocks, and stays at their place during snack time? And when there’s a problem, you use your words and don’t hit or kick?

Yeah. And you know what, Daddy – Billy took my Halloween candy, yesterday.

Really? And see? Didn’t that make you mad?

Yes.

So the colonialists and corporations take Halloween candy. They don’t take their turn and they don’t share. They just take. And they just leave you two pieces of ‘Bit-o-Honey’.

Yuck.

I know.

So that’s the bad guy?

Right. Well, actually no. That’s the colonialist. OMG. Anyway. Remember, the real world isn’t just bad guys and good guys.

Dad? Can I have another donut?

Not just yet. I’m on a roll with this metaphor.

A cimma-, cim-, cimmanon (sic) roll?

So. You and your friends are left to fight over a Bit-o-Honey.

Yuck.

I know. And then another kid takes all the blocks.

Probably Billy.

Probably. And then imagine you become so frustrated that you do anything to give you a sense of purpose and some guy comes along and says, ‘I’ll give you lots of cheddar bunnies and string cheese, but you have to go kick everyone in the heads in the name of religion.’

Dad, you’re losing me, again. Can we get another donut?

Stay with me. I’m just saying, there’s a reason for these insane acts of terrorism.

So…now I pray?

No. I mean…you can pray, but you can also think about how your choices affect others. Because that might help these bad guys, like Billy, be less desperate and maybe they won’t be so angry, grasp for religious extremism to give them purpose, and shoot people.

You said there aren’t bad guys and good guys.

Stop remembering everything I say.

I should share and be a responsible consumer and elect responsible leaders that aren’t uneducated nutjobs?

You’re learning quickly, son.

He slurps the last of his juice box. Dad?

Yeah?

Does Aunty Mimine live in Paris?

Yes, actually. Good memory, buddy.

Did the terrorists hurt her?

No, thank goodness.

Did she pray?

I’m certain she did not.

Is she scared?

No, buddy. She’s very brave.

She’s not scared of the terrorists?

No. She actually keeps telling me she’s fighting the terrorists by going out to restaurants and spitting wine in the terrorists’ faces.

Spitting is bad.

Well, yeah. It is.

And fighting.

You’re right.

I’m not scared. I’m brave. Like Percy in ‘Tale of the Brave’. This actually makes logical little boy sense, here. 

I know you are, buddy. I’m proud of you.

Is Paris scary?

No, bud; Paris is wonderful.

Ok.

And remember: think about how your decisions affect everyone…your friends at school and even little boys and girls around the world.

And pray?

Well…think. Think hard and ask questions. And talk with me. And pray if you want to.

And share my donut?

That’d be nice.

He licks donut crumbs off his fingers.

And listen to you?

Always.

Dad?

Yeah, buddy?

Do girls wear bras so their boobs don’t fall off? *

I guess my work, here, is done.

*Seriously. He asked that. And some of the other things, herein.

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I'm a father of two young boys living in New York and trying to cope with style and humor. I've founded a baby gear company, "George E. Knox" catering to stylish dads.

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