I don't often cry.
Son-of-Rouleur, who just turned 7, wanted to watch a show on Smithsonian Channel about pararescue jumpers, the Air Force Special Ops guys who rescue downed pilots. The documentary was about the mission to rescue Marcus Luttrell, a SEAL whose team got wiped out in a Taliban or Al Qaida ambush in Afghanistan. The focus was on prep for the mission, the 16 Special Ops troops killed in the initial effort to rescue Luttrell, and documenting the very serious difficulties the pilots had as a result of bad weather, high altitude, rough terrain, and dust on the landing zone that very nearly caused them to crash.
I don't mind exposing Son-of to this because I served quite a while in the military, all the men in my family have, and I can't hide my background what with pictures around the house of me in uniform and in strange places around the world. I could try to convince him not to serve as my Dad did with me and it will very likely only harden his determination; folks in my family are adventurous, love to do dangerous stuff and get into fights.
So with my son I think it's generally better to address my history - and some of the tough things in life like countries packed full of people just dying to hurt Americans - than it is to try to dodge those facts when the kid asks after seeing something packed with violence, blood and gore, like the evening news. Life's full of really hard stuff to cope with and it's best, I think, to take it as it comes and use difficult subjects as an opportunity to teach kids how to process them in a mature way.
So I explained what the soldiers are doing as sacrificing for us, so the bad guys can't hurt us - even if we don't agree with everything the soldiers are doing. He understood that and said "it's better to fight them [the bad guys]. We only fight them because we have to."
Toward the end of the documentary, the Air Force pilots are returning to the mountain side to retrieve the bodies of the other three SEALs, who were killed in the initial ambush. Son-of says to me, "why would they do that? It doesn't make sense to take that risk if they are dead."
Okay, that's a tough question. So I explained it like this: "You never leave a buddy behind - never ever. And if they are dead, you show you love them by bringing them back home, carefully, and seeing to it that they get a good burial like we do in the church. It's just the right thing to do."
So he chewed that over for a couple minutes, as we watched footage of the pararescue jumpers securing the bodies and hoisting them into the hovering bird.
Inside the bird, there was film of the recovery, and the jumper said "thankfully, somebody remembered to bring a couple American flags so we could cover the body bags and bring them back in an appropriate manner."
Son-of asked, "what's so special about putting the flag on them?"
I was pretty stumped about how you analogize that in a way that makes sense to a 7 year-old. Then it hit me.
"Well," I said. "You know that nice blanket that mommy knitted for you? The 'love blanket' that she knitted her love into?"
"That's what the flag is for soldiers who sacrificed for us. It's a love blanket from the whole country. To show them we love them."
He mulled that over for a second and said, "Daddy, are you going to make little tears? Because your eyes are glazed over."
I said, "yeah, a little bit. Those men gave their lives for us."
He said, "I'm going to make little tears too."
Sometimes, there isn't really anything you can say to your child, you just give them a hug and be thankful, for a lot of things.