In 2003 my twins were 3 years old and the world was filled with good guys and bad guys. We lived in northern Somalia, where my husband was a professor of Physics and English. One day, after a series of targeted assassinations of westerners, we were forced to flee. With thirty minutes to pack we threw one suitcase, one backpack, and two confused toddlers into the car and headed for the airport.
Explaining to 3-year-olds what had happened was simple.
“Bad guys did bad things and now we have to leave our home and friends.”
The twins didn’t question us, as long as they still had their blankies and favorite toys; as long as the four of us were together, things were okay.
Now these twins are 13 years old. They know the lines between bad guys and good guys aren’t always clean and obvious or as simply stated. They are watching the news, reading headlines online, learning about the world. And though Syria doesn’t have as immediate or personal an effect on us as conflicts in Somalia, they understand that the world is an interconnected place.
They know about refugees; refugees live on our street. They know about malnutrition and starvation; they give hand-me-down clothes to kids with the reddish-orange hair of kwashiorkor. They know about ramshackle huts; they have played hide-and-seek around them. They know that the images on the television are real, hungry, grieving children with names and parents and classmates.
We have chosen to not hide our kids from the violence, pain, and suffering in the world. It is too much in our face where we live in the Horn of Africa to ignore, too much a part of daily life to neglect. It might be easy to become so consumed by the needs around us that we justify not paying attention to Syria. But we won’t live like that.
So how can we talk to our kids about Syria? What can we do as a family?
We face it. We don’t need to watch all the television coverage, but we can watch some. We don’t change the channel, immediately, to something lighter. Eventually, something Miley-Cyrus-like will come along to trump the headlines, but we can choose what to emphasize (even while discussing Miley Cyrus, as this mother says: why we talk about Miley Cyrus instead of Syria). Or like Alyssa Milano does with her ‘leaked’ sex tape.
We celebrate the beauty even as we grieve its destruction. We can learn about more than the conflict. I don’t want my kids to only know Syria as a place of sorrow and violence. I don’t want them to only remember Somalia as a place of bad guys forcing us to flee. We can learn about dances and music and historical sites and folk tales.
We name it: war, violence, power, savagery, chemical weapons, refugees, hunger, rape, death.
We pray about it. Pray for peace, for humble world leaders, for protection of the innocent.
We agree to do our best to care for the refugees and the hungry who live near us. This will have no direct impact on Syrians, but talking about Syria makes us more aware of the brokenness right on our doorstep, and makes us more inclined to address it.
My youngest heard us talking about refugees and said, “That makes me want to give my clothes away.”
Yes! As we talk about Syria, our hearts and the hearts of our children will be stirred to care for the people we can see and touch and talk with.
But let’s get more specific…
We can send baby and hygiene kits to refugees. CWS Global describes needs and how people can provide practical assistance. Would you consider packing a ziplock baggie of clothes, diapers, blankets? Or a baggie of soap, washcloths, and Band-aids? Visit the CWS Global site for details. According to a friend on the ground in Syria, this is a real, valid, and needed way to serve.
It might look absurd for my family to pack baggies for refugees in Syria when there are refugees in Djibouti. And when, in fact, we are part of distributing school kits much like these baby and hygiene kits. But there are refugees everywhere and right now there is an immediate, urgent crisis. So my family will chose to love absurdly.
When I asked my son at boarding school, over the phone, about giving some of his own money toward kits he said, “Can I raise more money here at school?” Yes!
We choose together, as a family, to live a life of absurd love. This life won’t stop bombs from dropping and it won’t end wars but it will help us think outside our small world, and it will help us care about others, and it will make a difference for a few.
The world is too complicated and my children are too old now for the simplicity of good guys and bad guys. But they are still forming their worldviews and individual convictions. Conversations about issues like Syria, the broad issues and the ways to personalize them, are vital as we parent them through the teenage years to become, I hope, aware, engaged, and compassionate adults.
*image credit www.igoflags.com