Tough Question

Posted: May 26, 2012 in Uncategorized

I was helping my daughter Nadia tie her shoes this morning when she asked, “Daddy, what does memorial mean?” The TV was on and she had just seen an annoying commercial for a Memorial Day sale of some kind. I wasn’t prepared for that question. I would have liked to sit down with her and have a talk, but we were hurrying to get her out the door and to kindergarten. I didn’t want to blow off the question and miss an important teaching opportunity so I fumbled my way through an answer that sounded frustratingly inadequate to me.

I started by explaining that Memorial Day is a day for us to remember people who died in wars, fighting the bad guys to keep us safe. As the words were coming out I realized a four year old has no concept of global conflict and her understanding of death is limited to plants and one of her hermit crabs. The look on her face told me I might as well have been describing quantum mechanics. Let’s try again with something she can relate to. Remember when Great Grandpa was showing us all his old pictures? Remember he showed us pictures of him with his Army buddies? They weren’t in the United States. They were in a different country and some of his friends in those pictures didn’t get to come back home. “Why Daddy? They didn’t want to come back home?” No, honey, they wanted very badly to come back home, but they were fighting with some bad people. Some of Great Grandpa’s friends got hurt and some died.

I paused here, hearing what I had said. The complexity of human conflict in the eyes of a kindergartener is limited to getting a time out for not sharing a toy. That’s actually a beautiful thing. I was suddenly aware of the fact that, although I was impressed with her curiosity, she didn’t yet need to know about people killing other people. A time out was not going to resolve these issues. This was a 90 second conversation that left me longing to be four again.

I explained that Memorial Day is a day to remember people like Great Grandpa’s buddies. They went to fight those guys so they couldn’t hurt us and so they wouldn’t hurt other people. “Okay Daddy.” Come on, let’s go to school.

I’m not trying to say anything especially significant here. I was just shocked at how difficult it was to be put on the spot by a four year old in describing this. When I was a hiring manager in IT, one of my favorite questions to ask in an interview was, “How would you explain the internet to your grandparents?” I got all kinds of answers. Nobody was ever expecting that question. Some would squirm and stall. Those who could think quick and come up with a good answer always impressed me. I was in that hot seat this morning. Think about it for a minute. How would you describe Memorial Day to a curious four year old? War, injury, death, inappropriate consumerism, and maybe even politics could be elements of that discussion. I’m glad I kept it short and simple for her. I’m sure we’ll talk about it more this weekend, and I can’t wait to have great meaningful conversations about important things with her as she grows up.

  1. Doug says:

    Great post Dean. I think I have you beat though. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Keylan asked me what segregation was. I was almost in tears by the end of it with Keylan just staring at me wondering why I was so upset.

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