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.