Jeb has already seen his fair share of fighting, war and death- virtually, that is.
He’s been exposed to all the epic battle films (seeming each to be presented in parts one, two, three…) Star Wars, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones and Pirates of the Caribbean, et al. Since he stays between two homes, I’m not always able to keep him in my protective peace bubble of love and light. Though his dad may disagree, I don’t think it’s necessary for a seven-year old to view any of the aforementioned films. In my opinion, each fight scene, every shooting or slash of the sword, does have an effect on the witness.
Calling a truce on differing parental decisions between Jeb’s dad and I, I do what I can on what I can control when Jeb’s with me. I explain that the movie is make-believe (“I know, Mom!”). Iterate that guns are not toys (“Mom, I know that. I would never pick up a real gun.”). That there are other ways to work out your differences with someone. Ways beyond aggression (“I know, Mom. You just like peaceful things.”).
But I see that despite my reminders and promptings, he still enjoys the drama of the battle. Costumes are donned and makeshift weapons manifest as he plays out with a friend some sort of fight scene between good and evil. Someone is going to be destroyed. It’s almost always the “bad” guy. And as the ratings on the movies he sees beyond my purview leave the G zone, I find the language in the play has gotten slightly stronger. Recently, I heard the word “kill.”
I know it’s meant innocently enough. Almost a colloquialism. And that’s what kills me. Oops. See my point? Though the word coming from a seven-year old’s mouth seems so much worse.
This fighting thing has culminated to my awareness since our recent dinner table discussion that turned to the Draft in the Sixties. Not our typical mealtime conversation, but at one point Jeb asked me something about war and the window seemed opportune to explain to him that there was a time when boys 18 and older were asked to fight in Vietnam. Keeping the details age-appropriate, I conveyed the gist. His reaction was utter surprise. How could someone make you go to war, where you might be killed or have to kill someone?
Some readers may argue that having this dinner conversation with a child is as bad, if not worse, than a viewing of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows. I would understand that view, but from my perspective, this was an honest discussion that wasn’t set to a sweeping orchestra score while someone was slain. This was just facts, bare bones and simple. Yet, so complicated.
Days later we’re hiking on a trail and Jeb says to me, “Is it OK to kill people when you’re in college?”
My heart stops. My mind instantly demonizes all-things Hollywood, fearing that its filmmakers have regressed my son to the comprehension level of a three-year old. They’ve preyed upon his young eyes and warped his mind! Killing OK in college? What?!
I try to keep my tone measured. “Jeb, it is never OK to kill anyone, ever. Killing is not alright at any age. Not ever. Besides, it’s illegal, too. I thought you knew that.”
“Well, what about war?”
I realize that I had told him that the draft began at age 18. An age he knows is when someone may go on to college.
“Yeah, I think I see what you mean. That’s where it gets tricky.”
We are now on a slope much more slippery than the actual one we’re hiking down. I realize that at this juncture, there is no way I can explain this in a manner that actually is logical. We have ventured to the heart of an issue as ancient as humankind. I want to wrap him up in a shield where no violence will penetrate. Where only harmony and love will cross his path. I want this for every child. Every human. On every place on this sweet planet.
But, at least as it stands right now in this world, there are shadows and darkness in this life experience. I have to be careful not to take up arms, myself – especially in the name of Love.
I try to respond with a few more words. “In war, both sides think they’re right. They think they’re so right that it’s OK to kill. Kind of like self-defense.”
It’s hardly an answer but all I can conjure as we reach our car.
He chimes in, “Well in self-defense you can kill someone, right?”
Ahh…we’re sliding now.
I try to grasp some ground. “If someone is attacking you, there are other ways to deal with it besides killing. Each situation is different, but killing isn’t the only option.”
I wished they’d taught a class of “Other Options 101” when I was in school. Instead, here I am fumbling through a sense in my heart that there is a better way, with little logic to back it when it comes to these complex questions. I lean on honesty to save me.
“I know, Jeb. It’s tough. This war thing, it’s really complicated.”