The Writing Mamas Daily Blog

Each day on the Writing Mamas Daily Blog, a different member will write about mothering.

If you're a mom then you've said these words, you've made these observations and you've lived these situations - 24/7.

And for that, you are a goddess.

Friday, May 01, 2009


What Are We Fighting For?

My seven-years old son asked me recently, “Mom, is war ever good?” We were driving in beautiful Marin, past the emerald green hills and the sparkling blue water of San Francisco Bay.

I paused, and my thoughts raced through my head, searching for just the right words and just the right message. I thought of all the articles and books I ever read as a teacher and as a mother on explaining complicated issues to young children. My brain quickly turned up the information it retained on the warfare philosophy and latest war-related news, complete with visual images seen on TV and computer screens, as well as latest war casualties’ statistics. What could I answer to a seven-year old?

Suddenly, I recalled the familiar voice of my mother telling me stories of her growing up in Russia during and after WWII. It was her voice that made my throat tighten, my heart beating rapidly, my mind still desperately searching for words. I sensed that my answer was not instantly coming, and I said, “Let me think about it, okay?”

A few months ago, when Alex’s questions were getting increasingly complicated, I often found myself short of factual knowledge. Exactly how many miles are there from our planet to the moon? What does an artificial heart look like? For cases like these, I explained to Alex’s dismay that “sometimes Mom does not know everything, and she needs more time to look it up and think about it.”

Soon Alex grew to like that answer, because it often meant that we’d look stuff up together online or in the library. I also learned that it meant that I will definitely be reminded to account for my “thinking time.” As I invoked my “let me think about it” answer deferment, I knew that a few hours later I will be asked that very same question again.

My mother’s voice came to me from my childhood, when my bedtime stories were not about Goldilocks or dinosaurs, like the ones my son hears from me these days. They were my mother’s childhood memories, told in a quiet half-whisper in the darkness of my room in our apartment in the center of Moscow.

She told me of being called the “German bastard” by other children, because her birthday fell on the first day of war for Russia. She also told me about her family living in the church basement for several cold winter months, while their village in the outskirts of Moscow was bombed flat. Speaking slowly and calmly, she’d tell me, “Everyone bombed us, both our planes and the Germans. Bombs and bullets are too stupid to know who to kill and who to spare, they do not pick sides. Everyone who was out of the basement was dead.”

My mom also told me that the reason we didn’t have any family jewelry was because my grandmother exchanged all of her gold rings and earrings for two loafs of crudely baked brown bread to feed her five children, including my then four-year old mom. Even with that, her two seven-years old siblings died of starvation, their emaciated bodies forever etched in my mother’s memories. They were my uncle and aunt I never got to meet.

She told me about my grandfather coming back from war triumphant, angry, addicted to alcohol, and missing a leg. My mother’s stories left me sleeping fitfully, dreaming of black smoke of my mother’s burning village, of planes dropping bombs on women and children, and of the scarred stump of my grandpa’s leg.

Growing up during the Cold War, I was plagued with the anxiety of a seemingly imminent war threat from the United States. After learning of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in school, I grilled my much older brother with questions: “What exactly happens when a nuclear bomb explodes? Why do Americans want to start a nuclear war with us? How long will it take me to die if the bomb hits my school?”

An aspiring young scientist, he was all too happy to provide me with gruesome details. For my third grade art contest, I drew a picture of a big, black bomb with two thick red lines crossing it off and a white dove with an olive branch flying in the background. I did not win any prize.

As I got older, things gradually changed. The Cold War ended when I was a teenager, and America became our far away capitalist model to emulate. I moved to California to go to college, and my son was born here, in a comfortable hospital room overlooking the mountains of Marin County. In the beauty of emerald green hills and in our peaceful if hectic everyday life, my mother’s bedtime stories, my nightmares and my brother’s graphic modern warfare explanations began to slowly fade away. Only occasional glimpses of TV news about the war in Iraq kept them from completely disappearing from the back of my mind. My son’s question brought it all flooding back.

Sometimes, your mind does strange things, and it does not recall memories in the exact way it recorded them. A mother now, I suddenly see my son in the black smoke of a burning village. I see him in the dying, starving child in the basement and in burned bodies of nuclear bomb survivors. I imagine his face in place of a uniformed picture of a fallen American soldier in Iraq.

Is war ever good? It was such a short question. I could have given him a long, complicated, well-researched answer complete with statistics and examples. As a teacher, I could have possibly found the way to word it in a child-appropriate way. Instead, when we got home that day and he surely remembered to ask me again, I quietly sat him on my lap, hugged him tight, and simply said, “No.”

By Svetlana Nikitina

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble This Post Add to Technorati Favorites
Well done Svetlana. Thank you for writing this. Maija
Svetlana, this is a smart, real, complex discussion. I've been grappling with similar questions about war here with my 5 & 6 year olds -- but with less of the experience and wisdom you bring to the conversation.

Did you hear the piece on NPR's Weekend Edition today, where a reporter attends an Indian spiritual session? I was left reeling as I listened to the Indian spiritual leader take a sure stand that world peace is possible. That possibility seems so very, very far away to me. But I so very much want it.

Honest and thoughtful discussions with our children -- as your mother had with you and now you with your son -- are probably the best places to start.

I appreciate your voice and the kind of mother/teacher you are.
terrific, complex, layered piece. Descriptions are vivid and tells your answer to your son in such a compelling manner.

Marianne Lonsdale
Svetlana... What a nice piece.

you made me cry. you really turned this into an incredible story. i love this story! Laura-Lynne Powell
This is such a nice piece. Thank you for sharing it.
I think you did a great job of explaining to your child your feelings about war. As far as his question I', not sure you can answer it as he must answer it for himself.
Was the American Revolutionary War necessary at the time it occurred. Would Human Rights, and Democracy every gotten a chance and the proliferation of democracies that followed that war have occurred.
Would Hitler have been stopped without a war at that period of history.
Yes I believe we can evolve to a world without was, but I would say that some wars are necessary.
You live in this country I presume by choice. It was was that created it and kept it united.
I'm sure your son will think carefully and wisely due to your wise training, but you cannot answer all questions definitively, or Yes or No.
Thank you for this history of someone growing up in Russia and what really happened in one specific case.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?