*This is a slightly political post. Please be respectful if you find we fall on different sides of the line.*
I have been trying to explain the war in Syria and the refugee crisis to my seven year old.
The past few months, her deep brown eyes will watch the news when it is on, and she subsequently asks many questions. Questions that are so heartbreaking to answer.
“Did anyone die in that fire?” “I don’t understand why they shot the police officer?” “Why does it matter if his skin is brown?” “How did they crash that car?”
She is starting at seven to realize that the world has much deeper unpleasantness than her mom’s “mad face.”
Miss M is brazen. She is defiant. She is well spoken. She questions authority. She regrets it when she gets into trouble and isn’t above begging for more chances. She is hyper competitive. Even with herself. She envisions things in her head and has a hard time aligning the reality with the dream. It creates heartbreak when projects don’t meet her own high expectation. She has a vivid imagination and can create whole worlds to play in. She can paint a canvas for her friends to see these worlds as she invites in on her adventures. She has no qualms about dressing the part. She loves the spotlight. I’m hoping drama insulates her from being afraid to publicly express her thoughts. She tends to be self serving before being generous. Although, I’ve seen her be selfless as well. It is in her to be compassionate. It just doesn’t make an appearance as often. As a parent… knowing her dad… and knowing she’s still going to grow up in a world that has a lot of rules for women… I need her to know she doesn’t have to blindly be obedient. That she can clarify and question directives. Although, lately, I can feel the fine line of being mindful to raise her as a independent, strong willed, confident woman but possibly indulging a semi-bratty, entitled, manipulative child. It can be hard to parent. There is always a learning curve.
Miss M is still learning about the world. As we talk about the election of our next President– which is hard with so many adult topics happening this year– and the issue of Syria, I can see the wheels turning.
It is interesting how we delved into this conversation. It began with a benign question about candy. We were eating pizza at a small restaurant that had a large tv and the news on. They were discussing the Donald Trump’s son’s tweet that compared Syrian refugee crisis to a bowl of Skittles.
In between bites of cheesy pizza:
Miss M: “Mom. Why are they talking about Skittles on the news?”
Me: “Well, that’s a good question. It really isn’t about Skittles. It is one of the issues from the upcoming election.”
Miss M: “I don’t get it.”
Me: “I know. Okay. So one of the issues in the election is what to do with Syrian refugees. It is kind of a complicated thing to explain.”
Miss M: “What’s a refugee?”
Me: “Okay. A refugee is someone who left their country without permission because it was too dangerous for them to live their anymore. They ran away to find someplace safer to live.”
Miss M: “Oh. Well, why isn’t it safe? Did someone blow it up?”
Me: “Well, pretty much. These refugees they are talking about come from a country called Syria. In that place there is a war. There is a lot of fighting. And if you live there, because of the war, it is not a very safe place to be.”
Miss M: “Is that what happened to that little boy?”
She was talking about the image of the young boy sitting in the back of an ambulance.
Miss M: “I don’t get it. Why is there a war?”
Me: “Okay. I know you want to understand. This is important and I don’t want to get it wrong.”
I pulled out my smartphone and began to Google the history. Miss M fidgeted, sighed, and grumbled about how long it took to answer a question. Her sass is strong. Her patience minuscule. When I have enough self-education, I gave her the broad strokes.
Miss M: “But, Mom, what does that have to do with the Skittles?”
Oh for fuck’s sake…
Me: “Yes, the Skittles. Okay. So all these people are leaving Syria because it is not a safe place to live. You follow?”
Miss M: “Yes. What about the candy?”
Me: “I’m getting there. Hold on… Alright. So these people are leaving a dangerous place with nothing. They just are running away with whatever they can carry. So they have no food, clothes, toys– they have just themselves. They are crossing oceans in unsafe boats or walking across borders. They are just showing up in other places. So there is an issue of what to do with all these other people?”
Miss M: “The candy mom! What about the candy?”
Me: “Okay. So remember when we talked about the Boston Marathon and how some people blew up the finish line?”
Miss M (annoyed): “Yes.”
Me: “Some people think those kinds of people… the ones who might plan to blow up something else… are hiding with these refugees.They are pretending to be one of these people who desperately need help to get into other countries.”
I could see her wheels turning. Her brain is a weird combination of herself, her dad, and me. I can’t always follow the rabbit trail.
Miss M: “The candy?”
Me: “Okay. So Donald Trump does not want to let any of the refugees into our country. He is afraid one of the bad people will get in and hurt Americans. His son, trying to explain that idea, posted this photo of a bowl of Skittles. It says if you knew, just a few of the Skittles in the bowl were poisoned, would you take a handful? But he is using that as an example for the Syrian refugee problem. Except it is a little rude to because they aren’t candy. They are real people in real danger.”
Miss M: “Well, they shouldn’t let the bad people in.”
Me: “I think that’s what the world is trying to figure out, honeybun. But in the meantime, there are a lot of people who need help and a home. This is one of the things the country is thinking about when we vote in November.”
A few weeks past. We talked on and off about Skittles and bombs and people in Syria. She’s only seven. I know we are in the deep end of information treading water and trying not to drown to too complex issues.
I’m a bleeding heart who believes the bad people are already here. That the problem of terrorism isn’t going to be solved regulating immigration and humanitarian issues. I think it is a problem that will only be won when we realize we are all the same flesh and bone. That our passions and beliefs do not elevate us above another and give us permission to imprison, enact violence against, or judge one another. That if we are too afraid to be humanitarian and offer safe harbor to those with nothing, well, that the bad people have won. We are terrified.
Match and I, were talking about the first debate. We watch the political segments. These are our current date night with three-four kids and crazy work hours. We talk about NPR. Laugh at SNL skits. Discuss what this election means for our daughters. It is a nice thing we do together. And so, one weekend evening before bed, we were sitting on the couch. My feet in Match’s lap, trying to steel myself for bedtime, steadfastly ignoring the dirty dinner dishes, talking about the latest election drama. Bean was playing on the floor, Dimples had fallen asleep blissfully early, and Miss M was watching a show on her iPad so we could have the TV.
Somewhere in the middle of us talking, Miss M had stopped watching her tiny screen. The gist of the conversation went like this:
Miss M: “Mom.”
Miss M: “I don’t like Donald Trump.”
Me: “I don’t think I like him for President either, baby.”
Miss M: “But I think he’s right. We shouldn’t let those people in.”
Me: “The refugees?”
Miss M: “Yeah. If there are bad people with them, that’s not right. We shouldn’t let them in. The bad people should not come in.”
Me: “Well, here’s the thing. What about all the people who aren’t bad?”
Miss M: “They should stay in Syria.”
Me: “Syria isn’t a place safe to live in.”
Miss M: “But if the bad people come in, then we won’t be safe either.”
Match: “Well, what if it was the other way around? We lived where it wasn’t safe.. wouldn’t you want someone to help you?”
Miss M: “Well, yeah. But we are safe.”
Match: “Kind of.”
I gave him an eye roll… Don’t. Don’t go there now.
Me: “I think that a lot of people feel the way you do, Miss M. I just think that it isn’t right to not help all the people who just want to be safe too.”
Match: “They are kids just like you there. They have nothing.. no food, no clothes, no home. They should be taken care of, right?”
Miss M: “Well, yeah.”
Match: “So someone has to take those people in.”
Me: “Some people travel very far and risk their lives to just leave that place because the war is so bad. It will take a long time to fix there home. I know it is scary that people who want to hurt us might come in, but I think it is more scary we could see all these people who need help… and not help them.
We talked and debated. Match and Miss M both always need to have the last word in things. They don’t share an ounce of DNA… but they are scary similar. They drive each other nuts. They are my late sleepers and night owls. The only two who are not morning people. They are both stubborn, passionate, focused, hobbyists. They both have a little touch of not-giving-a-fuck. They are both competitive and like to win. She hates that Match always wins. He loves it. I spend a lot of effort mediating when they decide to butt heads. Match thinks he’s setting a line and following the world order of kids being-listening-to-adults. I grew up a little more of a household where my voice mattered. I worry she is having her true self squished into obedience. I’m worried she’ll learn to stop questioning adults. Or men. I think, for her, that’s unsafe. Not all adults in her life are people she should have to blindly listen to. It is a problem I’m struggling with in our mixed family. What to do with these two… step-father and step-daughter. I see them cuddled upon the couch relaxing. I see them twith fire in their eyes staring down one another. She is not a piece of his heart walking outside his chest. She does not have a piece of him in her outward appearance. The love between them is something we made. It just is not the same as Bean and Dimples. Nor is it the same as my relationship with Blue Eyes. She does not have to share the same space with me full time. She isn’t bunkered with me enough to have massive conflicts and flesh out how they would feel. I do know this– we are family. A modern, slightly complicated one. Family with lots of little twists and turns, but as long as we keep finding our way back to the root– love without conditions– we are where we are suppose to be.
This election is in interesting one. There is a lot of feelings bubbling to the surface. A lot of fear for our future. I think the issues is this: we are loving and trying to do the right thing WITH conditions. A lot of wrong things are happening because they fit these conditions.
“Mom. I don’t want the bad people to come in.”
“I know. No one does. But those bad people are just people. That sounds like not doing the best thing because we are scared we will end up really hurt. We have to have courage.”
Courage is something people think we are going to vote for in this election. For someone to finally do something about all these problems plaguing Americans. However, love with conditions, seems cowardly. We can not choose to do nothing because it’s scary to do something. Franky, we are not all seven years old and learning. We are adults who should be leading. We have to stop being too afraid to choose the loving, humane, risk-filled thing. We have to find our courage.