“Mommy, what’s that?” My 5-year-old asked, pointing to a large, black conical structure a few feet from the astronaut exhibit we were admiring. “I don’t know. Let’s go see.” So, over we went, my 3.5-year-old holding one hand, my 5-year-old holding the other, and my 1.5-year-old strapped to my chest. “It’s a missile,” I said as I scanned the display plaque. “What’s a missile?” She asked. I paused.
How to explain missiles, war, destruction, and intentional loss of life to a kindergartener without fueling nightmares or marring her worldview? I had to keep it simple but accurate. I had to think fast.
“Missiles are like bombs that one country can launch at another country during war.” I said succinctly, hoping her interest would fizzle and we could return to examining astronaut toileting gear.
“What’s war?” She asked. Crap! “War can happen when countries disagree with one another and can’t talk it out. Instead, they hurt each other until one country is so hurt that it cannot or will not fight anymore.”
“How do they hurt each other?” She asked. Dammit! “They use guns and bombs…” “and missles?” She interjected. “Yes, and missles.”
“How do the missles hurt people? Does that pointy thing on the end poke people?” Whyyy?? “Not quite,” I began, “The missile blows up and that explosion hurts people.” “How does the explosion hurt people?” She inquired. “The explosion can make buildings fall down, things catch fire, people who were in the buildings get injured or die.” She looked at me in silence. She appeared both sad and confused.
“Why do countries do that?” “I don’t know. I don’t quite understand it.” I replied, “No one likes war. Unfortunately, sometimes it just happens. Countries get so angry with one another that they think the only way to end the argument is to start a war. Sometimes people in one country want to hurt people in another country, so war happens when one country is trying to protect itself.” I pointed to the display where we had previously stood for a long time examining the uniform of a female Air Force officer. While examining the details of her jacket, we reviewed the family history of military service — both of my grandfathers, my great uncle, etc. — and family friends who served and are serving. “That’s why people like her are important. They help keep us safe.” She nodded and grabbed my hand.
“I don’t like war, Mommy.” She said with a sigh. “I don’t either, sweetheart.” “Can we see the astronaut pee bag again, Mommy?” Asked my 3.5-year-old. “Yes. Yes we can.”