Manual TypewriterEssays, Reviews, and Commentaries

By Arlene (Ari) Istar Lev

Parenting in the War Years

Posted By on June 30, 2009

Parenting in the War Years
By Arlene (Ari) Istar Lev
I haven’t written a column since September 11th and I’m finding it a very difficult prospect. I have, like many of you I suspect, spent a good deal of the last few weeks watching more news than I have in the last ten years, although I have now finally realized that whatever answers I am seeking are unlikely to be revealed through the media. It is hard to contemplate the enormity of the loss of life. It is even more difficult to contemplate how very common and frequent such acts of terrorism happen on a global scale. Like most Americans I have been rudely awakened once again to the privilege that is my life and from the illusion that I can somehow keep my children safe.

There was no question in my mind once the second plane hit that I had to pick my children up from school. They played a room away from the television, the baby gleefully oblivious, but eventually my older son’s curiosity won out, and we let him watch the buildings collapse. It is surreal to him, of course. New York City skylines and airplanes crashing into buildings are the stuff movies are made from; it was only his parents’ obvious terror that was unusual.

Our lives have gone on, mostly his focus is on soccer, Pokeman, who’s getting bigger scoops of ice cream, and how the tooth fairy can slip through the small holes in the screen. Sometimes though more is revealed under the surface. Usually disinterested in the television news, his attention flashes when a small boy is shown crying. I explain, "His father was one of the fire fighters who died in the buildings," and he watches riveted to the small boys tears. Later he asks, "Who would I live with if you and mommy died?" and we give him the most reassuring answers we have, although I fear they sound hollow.  When he describes the various powers his Pokeman have, he adds that they can smash two big towers in an instant. Or when looking at the globe he asks me to show him where Afghanistan is and how cold it is there now.

On our way to a peace rally he asks me to explain again about why the "mean men" did this. I tell him what I know to be true: it is hard to know why mean people do what they do, but they are probably very angry, like when he kicks the wall or yells that he hates me. I say that some people think it will help if we try to find the mean people and act even meaner to them. Thoughtfully he says, "but won’t they just want to come back and be meaner to us? Maybe we need to find out more about why they are so mad, even if what they did is not okay." His common sense is sadly not so common, even among those who are older and far more educated. He has learned a new word this week—diplomat—and has added this to his potential future jobs including chef, race car driver, and horse farmer.

My partner and I attended a professional conference last week, amid presidential announcements of terrorist alerts. We flew half-way across the country, our first time that we have ever left our children without at least one of us being less than an hour away. We flew on separate planes, not because we really believed we were likely to be hijacked, but because it is now a possibility that is best avoided. Part of parenting is doing all we can to ensure that our children have at least one parent to carry on in the face of tragedy. When I tell this to people who are not parents, their eyebrows go up and they try to contain a smirk—clearly I am an overly protective, anxious Jewish mother. When I tell parents they nod, knowingly. Our lives will indeed never be the same, and the weight of the responsibility that has been entrusted to us as parents has never been so heavy. With a heavy heart, I wrote a letter to my children before I left, incase my routine professional conference turned into a less than routine day. Aware that others have not been so lucky, I scooped them up in my arms when I came home, grateful to let the letter sit unread until they are at least old enough to read.