While driving on post to take Tom dinner Saturday evening, the girls were playing in the backseat and I was listening to NPR. At the top of the hour the news led with a report about an attack on NATO troops in Afghanistan, resulting in 7 casualties.
I turned the dial, silently cursing myself. I’m usually so careful. I have to be. Tom deploys frequently. E’s friends have fathers who deploy frequently. I don’t want to scare her.
From the backseat, “What about American soldiers, Mom?”
Darn. “Nothing, E. It wasn’t American soldiers, it was NATO soldiers.” A little lie. I was panicking. We’ve talked about the dangers of war, but I really try to avoid it.
“Oh. That is so sad for their kids, but I’m glad it wasn’t our guys. Americans. That’s a little better, right?” says my ever so brutally honest, brave girl.
I wanted to cry. I wanted to pull over on the side of the road and cry for the little girl who obviously thought about war and death and loss. Who didn’t know her own father was once hit by an IED when she was just 15 months old. Who didn’t know about the loss that touched so closely to our own lives, to her father’s.
I didn’t cry though. I took a deep breath and said, “War and death is so sad, those who fight, are wounded, or die deserve so much more. It is horrible for their families, but yes E, I agree. It is a little better if it isn’t someone we could possibly know.”
Little R pipes up in her little girl voice, trying to copy her sister, “What about solda daddies?”
Before I can say a word, I see E turn towards her sister in my rear-view mirror. She stretches out her hand and says, “It’s okay, R. They were just talking about soldiers in Afa-gahan-a-stan. Not Iraq. Nowhere Daddy has gone. They’re okay.”
At that moment I realize what it is to be a child of a veteran, a child of a soldier who has deployed to war. I thought I could protect her from the darkest realities of war, but I could not. She has learned of war and sorted it into some sort of levels of right and wrong, of fear and acceptance, of need and protection. In that moment, when she reassured her sister, I knew I did the right thing. I protected her while I could and allowed her to gently form her own type of acceptance. That she shared that same cautious comfort with her sister…well, I gained a perfect picture of her love for her little sister: protective, gentle, loving, and respectful. What an incredible little girl.