Explaining the Walk-Out to a Kindergartener

Eitan had been ready for school for a little while by the time we asked to talk to him.

He was sitting at his homework table, coloring in the small Star Wars coloring book he had gotten as a birthday party favor or as a small treat from Target or some other place that five-year-olds acquire little coloring books. His sneakers were already tied and knotted and his hair was neatly gelled and combed. He was wearing his backpack for some reason, even though he would have to take it off to put his coat on when we were ready to leave.

Trudy was finishing getting ready in our bedroom and had left the door open so that we could talk. Eitan stood up slowly from his chair and walked over to stand next to me. I reassured him that everything was fine and that we just wanted to talk about something that was happening today.

“So,” Trudy began, “some kids in your class might be leaving school–”

“Why?” Eitan asked, cutting her off.

“They’re fine and they’re going to come back–”

“But why?” he asked again.

“I’m telling you. They’re going to go out for a little while and then come back.”

“Where will they go?”

“They’ll just be standing outside the school,” I answered. “They’ll go stand outside for a bit and then come back in.”

“Cold! Cold!” Shayna interjected.

Trudy and I smiled. “Yes, Shayna, it’s cold outside,” I said.

Trudy turned back to Eitan. “Do you know what it means to protest?” she asked.

Eitan shook his head no.

“You know when we ask you to turn off the television or to put your shoes on or to go do something else and you argue with us? That’s protesting,” she said.

“To protest is to say that you don’t like something,” I added. “So when you argue, you’re saying you don’t like the fact that we’re asking you to do something you don’t want to do.”

“Right,” Trudy said. “So the people who leave school are going to be protesting. They’re saying that they don’t like–”

“Trump?” Eitan interrupted.

Both Trudy and I burst out laughing. We don’t spend a lot of time discussing politics in front of Eitan but, clearly, he had picked up on the connection between our current president and the word “protest.”

Eitan looked confused, though. He had figured out that this was an important conversation and he had not intended to make a joke. Our laughter had caught him by surprise.

“You’re not really wrong,” I said. “But the people who walk out aren’t going to be protesting Trump by himself. They’re angry about the rules that the government has about who can own guns.”

“There are people who don’t use guns the right way,” Trudy continued. “Unfortunately, there have been some people who have brought guns into schools and people have gotten shot.”

“That’s why only police officers should have guns, right?” Eitan asked as my mind immediately jumped back to the other conversation I had just had with him about guns. “Because the police help to keep people safe so they should be the only people who get to use guns.”

“That’s a really good idea, Eitan,” Trudy said. “But people are allowed to buy guns. It’s one of the things that people are free to do because they live in America. You know what it means to be free, right?”

“It means that you don’t have to do what people tell you,” he answered. “Like the slaves in Egypt weren’t free.”

Trudy’s eyes widened with pride, marveling at the association our son had made. My lips spread into a broad grin; I knew that we had gone over the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt every year at Passover but we hadn’t started talking about it yet this year. I made a mental note to compliment his religious school teacher for helping to refresh Eitan’s memory.

“You’re absolutely right,” I said. “In fact, if you hadn’t said that, I was going to use that exact example to explain freedom to you.”

“So, in America,” Trudy continued, “people are free to own guns if they want. The problem is that not everyone uses guns in the right way and we want to change the laws to make it harder for the wrong people to buy them.

The conversation continued in a similar vein for another minute or two. Eitan said that he understood and Trudy and I each gave him a hug and a kiss. Eitan went to play with Shayna until we were ready to leave and Trudy and I stood watching them for a moment.

“He’s really amazing,” I said.

“Yeah, he is,” Trudy agreed. “I couldn’t believe he made that freedom comparison.”

She had been smiling but her expression morphed quickly into a mix of anger, sadness and a hint of fear.

“I can’t believe we just had to have that conversation with our five year old,” she said.

My own smile faded into a grimace as I wrapped my arms around her.

“I know.”

Shooting From the Hip

“You’re not in trouble,” I reassured him. “I’m just curious.”

Eitan was sitting across the table from me. He was still wearing his pajamas, as he usually is when we eat breakfast, and his hair seemed to think that it was still in bed. His almost-six-year-old face looked nervous, as though he did not believe that I only wanted to talk. He had just started to tear off a new piece of his French toast to dip in the syrup on his plate when I asked the question.

“I don’t know,” he said quietly and took a bite.

I didn’t blame him for feeling uncomfortable. Trudy and I have had a number of discussions with Eitan where we were just trying to understand why he was behaving a certain way. My social work instincts told me to avoid the word “why” so I wouldn’t come across as confrontational or interrogative but I could tell that Eitan was still on the defensive.

Plus, this particular situation was… well, it was different. Even if it wasn’t.

I was asking him about a note I’d found on my phone, which I knew I had not written:

I was also thinking about the fact that I found the note the day after seventeen people had been murdered by an eighteen-year-old young man at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

I returned my focus to my sweet, innocent boy sitting across from me. Eitan’s cheeks showed the slightest shade of pink and I thought I saw his lip tremble. He gazed back at me for a moment before tearing off another piece of French toast. Eitan wasn’t fidgeting the way he usually does when he has been caught doing something wrong but it was plain that he did not want to maintain eye contact.

“Eitan, I promise you’re not in trouble,” I said softly. “Do you remember what made you write that note?”

Eitan shrugged. “Because I thought it was funny when Han Solo shot Greedo.”

I paused to think of what to say next.

Trudy and I have been consistent on the “gun issue” since Eitan was little. We have not allowed any toy guns into our house, aside from water pistols. We didn’t buy Eitan a toy gun when we visited the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona and we’ve talked with him about the differences between real bullets and the projectiles that some of his toys shoot. And I was very careful to speak with Eitan about the differences between the Stormtroopers’ blasters and real-life guns before we watched Star Wars together for the first time a few months ago.1

I sighed.

“You’re right,” I answered. “I thought that moment was kind of funny too because of what Han and Greedo were talking about and because it’s a movie. I bet Greedo didn’t think it was too funny to get shot, though.”

Eitan looked down as he chewed. “No, probably not,” he said.

My lips shifted into a half-frown, much like the emoji I use all too often in my text messages.

“Do you know why I was so surprised to see that note in my phone?” I asked.

He looked up at me, but didn’t answer. His eyes still showed a hint of fear.

“Well,” I started again, “do you remember what guns are used for?”

“To shoot people?” Eitan asked meekly.

“Yeah,” I answered. “And what happens when people get shot?”

I could barely hear him as he spoke.

“They die.”

“Right,” I said, my half-frown returning. “Or they get hurt really badly. That’s why Mommy and I don’t want you to play with guns or pretend you have a gun. Because we don’t like the idea of people getting hurt or of you pretending to hurt people. Does that make sense?”

“Yes,” he said, nodding.

“Good, I’m glad,” I said. Then I added, “Again, I’m not mad. I promise. I just wanted to make sure you understood how Mommy and I feel. Plus, guns themselves aren’t necessarily bad; there are some people who use guns to hunt for food.”

“Right,” he said, starting to smile. “And police officers use guns to keep us safe, right?”

“Right,” I said, returning the smile. “People who use guns just have to be trained and we have to be really careful around them.”

I changed the subject at that point, feeling confident enough that the message had gotten across. I’m not worried that Eitan will grow up to be a serial killer or that he’ll shoot up a school but there have been so many mass shootings2 and terrorist attacks3 since Eitan was born that the idea of him playing with guns makes me sick to my stomach. I know that I can’t control what he does at recess at school or when he’s playing with his friends; I wouldn’t want to. Eitan will make those decisions as he grows and learns more about himself and the world around him. Trudy and I are just going to have to keep having these conversations with him as he gets older to make sure that he’s making informed decisions and considering the consequences of his choices.

He’ll have to take things from there.

1. I know I wrote once that I was going to wait until Eitan was older to show him Star Wars. I wrote that piece over a year ago, though, and Shayna and Trudy were both not feeling well one weekend this past fall, so he and I watched it together while they slept.

2. Aurora. Sandy Hook. Orlando. Las Vegas. Parkland.

3. Paris. Barcelona. Malmo, Sweden. And these two footnotes are just off the top of my head without doing additional research.