Friday, May 6, 2011

Big questions from a little mind

How do you explain why everyone is happy about a person dying?

While the US is celebrating and the joke machine is in overdrive since the death of Osama bin Laden, I’ve had my brain rattled by a five-year-old and her endless questions ever since Anzac Day.
There have been quite a few conversations about Anzac Day, especially since it is discussed at school, and on television.
In fact, any time she sees someone in an army uniform she asks me about dead soldiers.
“Why did the soldiers die?” is the first question that pops up and the rest of the conversation goes something like this:
Me: “Because they were fighting in a war.”
Miss Five: “What’s a war?”
Me: “When bad people want to hurt good people, the soldiers have to fight back and protect the good people.”
Miss Five: “Why do they want to hurt them?”
Me: “Because they don’t like the way we live.”
Miss Five: “Why?”
Me (distracted by crying baby and put on the spot): “Because... just because... um... because they’re jealous!”
Then I ramble on about living in a free country and how some bad people don’t like us, as footage from Afghanistan appears on television making it more real.

Miss Five (with a worried look on her face): “Why don’t they like us?”
Me: “Oh, not us, they don’t know us. We are fine. They don’t like Australians.” (I say ’Australians’ because she doesn’t know much about world history or politics just yet.)
Miss Five: “But we’re Australian.”
Me (uh-oh... dug a deeper hole with that one): “Yes, but the soldiers aren’t fighting in Australia, so we’re OK. It’s all happening in another country a long way away.” (Whew, think I may have rescued myself).
Miss Five (still worried): “In South Africa?” (where her paternal grandmother and extended family live).
Me: “No, not South Africa, in another country a long way from us, and a long way from South Africa.”
Miss Five: “OK.” (Satisfied with my answer, she picks up her fork and continues eating her dinner).
The only problem is that now whenever she sees someone on television in an army uniform she asks: “Are they the soldiers who died?”
Like all Australians, I spend a moment every Anzac Day thinking of those who died during war times so that we have the great life we have today.
But unlike other Australians, there’s not one particular person who I think about.
No one in my recent family tree is in the armed forces or has been to war, so my family has no medals to pass down from one generation to the next, no portraits of a soldier, and no heroic war stories to tell.
I know in the future my daughter will understand a lot more about war and Anzac Day, but at this tender age, I’d rather protect her innocence for a little bit longer.
However, the journo in me loves to see the evening news, so it’s my fault she is exposed to the bad stuff that is going on in the world.
This week, on seeing the latest news about bin Laden, she asks: “What happened?”
Me: “Someone died.”
Miss Five: “Why is everyone happy?”
Me: “Because he was a bad man who killed a lot of people.”
Death is not normally something we celebrate, so this line of questions stumped me for a while. I was worried I was giving her the wrong idea (that it’s OK to be happy about someone being killed), and when I was about to explain that they’re happy because he can’t do bad things anymore, her little brain took off on another tangent.
Miss Five: “U-S-A! U-S-A!” (copying the crowd on the television, then pauses... with a quizzical look on her face).
Miss Five: “What’s U-S-A?”
The conversation took a complete right turn into one about geography, and I was somewhat relieved. I found myself wishing I hadn’t turned on the television and I wondered what else she has seen that has confused, or worse, scared her.
I didn’t have to wait long for an answer, as an advertisement promoting Merlin was aired on Channel Ten.
This scared her a whole lot more than watching gunfire on a news bulletin, so that’s when I finally switched it off!
I’m not sure if my answers to my daughter’s questions were very good, but at least I didn’t lie.
I do believe children should learn about the world around them... the good and the bad, but I’m sure there are many parents out there who want to shield their kids from the horrors of the world for as long as they can – and that’s fine, too.
It’s hard for me to find a boundary on this issue. Where do you draw the line on what your children see on television? Is the evening news becoming so disturbing that it should be given a MA rating?


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