As a person who tends to see the world with optimism and empathy, I have long struggled with how to approach the immense, persistent darkness and uncertainty that exists outside of our lives. It is our responsibility to know from travel and news and books that other people experience these harms daily. This is especially the case in war-torn areas, where sudden death and violence become a way of life.
I remember when I traveled with your Auntie Ti to Bosnia and Herzegovina, a tour guide in Sarajevo not much older than us described getting water for his family as a kid during the war there in the early nineties. He had to run a zig-zag pattern to the water source and occasionally heard a sniper’s bullet whiz by him. Even at that time, over a decade before I became your mom, I thought about what that man’s parents must have felt at the near constant threat of losing their child to the war.
The morning of April 4, the people of Khan Sheikhoun in northwest Syria experienced an airstrike exposing hundreds to sarin, a banned chemical substance that left 72 people dead with the death toll likely to rise. Parents lost children, young and grown, and partners and friends lost each other. All at the hands of a government comfortable unleashing chemical warfare on its citizens in violation of humanitarian law but with no recourse from foreign governments, including our own.
You will not have exposure to news like this for a long time. Your dad and I have the privilege of protecting you from harm as best we can and following the common Western parenting advice that kids should avoid violent media until at least age six, and then only in small doses. But other parents do not have that privilege and you have age peers who have already been exposed to the type of violence most Americans only see in movies or on the news.
That discrepancy shapes people and paths and lives. Yet I know that perhaps especially where it is most difficult, parents often do what they believe is best for their children. As I watch from the safe perch of thousands of miles away Syrian parents boarding boats, leaving their belongings and wealth, being split apart, considered lucky if they arrive to the cold greeting of countries reluctant to accept them, I think of this poem and this image and these words from a brave little girl (if you haven’t read through Bana Alabed’s tweets, now is the time). And I wonder what I would do as your mom, what level of strength I would muster, what I would tell you, were we to experience such extreme harm.
While I hope I can do everything in my power to protect you from every kind of exposure to violence for a long time, there are steps I can take with you now so that you have perspective later. Never has it been more important to sit down together after daycare and call our senators about issues that shape your future. Never has it been more important to teach you kindness and empathy. Never has it been more important to teach you about bodily integrity and autonomy and the importance of individual life. Never has it been more important to help you understand the Catholic and Muslim faith traditions you come from. As you grow and have questions about how the world works, never has it been more important to answer you respectfully and honestly.