Am I Supposed To Teach This Child About War Now?
She is so happy and can still barely read
In 1986, I was laying in my room, looking at the ceiling, and worrying about nuclear war. This was before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the leaders of the United States and the Soviet Union were still on the cusp of the Reykjavík Summit and slowly testing the reduction in tensions around the Cold War. I don’t know why I was worried about nuclear war in 1986, other than that I was twelve years old and suddenly aware of what the ramifications of what a war—Cold or otherwise—could be for me. I remember my mom coming into the room, and I remember talking to her about it, but I do not remember what she said, and I wish I could remember now, because I have no idea what I will tell Kina when she becomes suddenly aware of the terrifying prospects of geopolitical conflict.
In the last day, I’ve had to really wrestle with what I should and shouldn’t talk about in front of Kina. The invasion of Ukraine is scary and senseless, and it brings back lots of memories from the 1980s and my childhood—The Day After, War Games, the general threat of bombs and Reaganomics and the faceless threat of Socialism (on which I now have a totally different perspective!) Laurea and I talk around corners from Kina as she eats Pirate’s Booty, waiting until she goes to bed before starting our doomscrolling. I spend a lot of time thinking about what I will say when Kina picks up on the fact that a land war in Europe has unfolded. She understands countries, but not conflict. Cuisines, but not governments. Languages, but not territories.
How do I back into the idea of “war”? Of armies? Of history? Of the Soviet Union? Of Stalin? Of men who like to compare themselves favorably with Stalin? Of imperialism? Of fighter jets? Of missiles? Of “civilians”?
The fact is, I have a choice here. Parents in Ukraine do not. The invasion is not something that lives in their heads and on their phones, and it does not hide from children. I have seen over and over in the last day the opening frame of a video—a father is embracing his children near a bus, and they are looking up at him in fear. The description says that he is staying behind. He looks distraught. I cannot watch it, but again, I have that choice. I cannot fathom what it is like not to have that choice.
I started making this paper, almost two years ago, to distract myself from the pandemic and to entertain Kina. I kept making this paper for those same reasons, and because my friends liked to read it; they said it distracted them, too. Still, from time to time, the horrors of the day peek through in the headlines here. The murder of George Floyd (which predates the existence of this newsletter version of the paper) and the insurrection at the Capitol have both made their way onto the pages of the otherwise breezy Daily Kina, because I do not want us to forget that they happened, when Kina is old enough to understand this. I want a record of the fact that this was hard.
In 1986, I was twelve, and getting my head around war. I am forty-seven now. Kina is five. What do I do?