I have never bought toy guns or violent video games for my sons. But my children don't live in a bubble. They know these toys exist and, to my chagrin, play with them at other people's homes.
So our house has always been the no-fly zone. Yet for the past few weeks my home has also become a fallout shelter. The TV is strictly monitored, newspapers with headlines shrieking of bombings, death, and columns of smoke rising over Baghdad are carefully tucked out of sight.
It hasn't made much difference. My sons, ages 9, 8, and 4, know all about the war. Yes, even the 4-year-old has caught an errant glimpse of carnage or heard about it from a neighbor. They ask: "What are the yellow ribbons all about? Why are we at war? Are we the good guys? If we're the good guys why are we blowing up a city with people in it?"
I have answered as best I can. I am not trying to hide the truth from my boys. But I am also trying to keep them from becoming obsessed, as I have been.
Since March 19 they have badgered me for details and updates as if there were some international sporting event for which we were awaiting a fateful play to up the score. "Who's winning?" they ask.
"Nobody," I answer.
I have told them about Saddam Hussein, nothing they didn't already know from school and talk on the bus and with friends. The older boys can read the crawl on CNN. On our local cable stations, CNN is on 32 and Nickelodeon is on 33. This has led to a number of inadvertent flicks to what they now call "the war channel."
It used to be "the terrorist channel" after Sept. 11. In fact, shortly after that I walked into my living room to find my toddler constructing the twin towers out of dog food cans and then knocking them down with a toy plane. That same evening my husband and older boys began making the towers out of LEGOs. I was appalled. I could not believe my spouse was doing this.
He said, "We're not going to knock them down. The boys said they missed them and wanted to make them here [at home] to feel better."
So they did. We took two giant boxes of ancient LEGOs from my mother-in-law's attic, plus our supply, and they rebuilt the towers to scale in our living room. When they were done the boys were far less stressed. Also, they had gained some insight.
"Why would anyone destroy something that took people so long to make?" my oldest son, Zoltan, asked. "I mean, just making the model was really hard work, and now I don't want anybody to wreck that."
LEGO therapy? My husband is wise beyond his years.
Now, as they catch their glimpses of buildings bombed and rubble in the streets of Baghdad they have wondered the same thing aloud.
"[Coalition forces] blew up a palace," my oldest pointed out. Someone at school mentioned it. The other child thought this was great. My son saw it as a tragedy. "I hate seeing things people work hard for get destroyed."
So today we are scouring the Internet for a picture of Baghdad taken in prebombing days so we can build some buildings. It is not to make a political statement. It is not about supporting or not supporting our troops and our country. It is not about supporting terrorist regimes.
It is about the simple act of empowering my little boys to fix something they view as broken. It's a tool to help me help my children to work through this war and retain their creativity, imagination, and humanity. Now that's a good war toy.