“Where do babies come from?”
It’s an easy question. One of the easiest, really. If you’re a parent, you know where babies come from, and the answer really is quite simple, no matter how squeamish you may feel in talking about it with your children.
My wife and I have no problem with that question.
It’s the questions with difficult answers that trip me up.
Every year, my family attends the Memorial Day service at the cemetery near our house. We hear “The Gettysburg Address” from a sort-of Lincoln impersonator, listen to a quartet sing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and clap for the men and women who stand and salute when their respective military-branch theme songs are played. As parents, my wife and I are upfront about death.
But as easy as it is to explain to our kids that lungs or a heart or a brain can stop working, it’s difficult to explain why someone would make that happen to someone else.
How do I answer my newly 5-year-old secondborn when she asks, “Daddy, why do we have wars?”
I hate not being in control, not having the answers. I hate it when that same daughter asks me why her stomach is hurting and what I can do to stop it from hurting. Every night. Short of continuing to take her to the doctor for tests, there’s nothing I can do. I don’t have an answer.
I’m still asking questions myself: What drove a frustrated 22-year-old to kill six people in Santa Barbara? Why do gunmen attack children in schools? What will I tell my children when they first hear such reports, when they first receive and comprehend the news that in another school, another classroom, kids just like them were killed—for no reason?
After the ceremony at the cemetery, my firstborn, just about to turn 7, told me that she wants to join the Air Force, like my dad. I told her that if that’s really what she chooses to do with her life, I would support her, but in the meantime, I would try to talk her out of it.
I struggled for an answer.
“Because I would be afraid,” I finally admitted. “I would be afraid that you would die.”
She was undeterred—because Grandpa didn’t die—but I’m not too concerned. She only recently wanted to be a fashion designer/entomologist, which was a career choice that may or may not have involved her creating dresses inspired by insects. I was never clear on the specifics.
I’m not clear on a lot of things.
What if my secondborn’s stomach doesn’t stop hurting?
What if the tests reveal something bad? Something terrible?
What if one of my children does join the military? Sees combat? Disappears from my life?
What if not all of my children outlive me?
What can I do that I’m not already doing?
These are the tough questions. Or, more accurately, these are the tough answers to find.
“Where do babies come from?”
Please. Sperm and an egg are a walk in the park.