Thursday, June 11, 2009

Battle of Brooklyn

My son had good playground karma yesterday, and that’s not easy to come by. The afternoon romp got off to a great start when he ran into his favorite brother pair-- Eddie and Joey -- on the monkey bars. Eddie just turned 4 and Joey’s 6, which means Primo, at 4 ½, is exactly in between them age-wise and has had a chance to be in preschool class with both of them (Joey last year, and Eddie this year). They’ve got a sister Seconda’s age, live nearby and have friendly, down-to-earth parents. If there was a for playdates, I would choose this family, and we’d all end up on a commercial, the kids playing superheros and hopscotch in the background, the grownups drinking coffee in the foreground and talking about how really works.

So Primo is running around the playground with Eddie and Joey, killing red ants against my protestations, walking the plank, undertaking secret agent missions, all around the Old Stone House which is at the far end of the playground. I’ve been vaguely aware that this house has something to do with the Revolutionary war and is of great historical value to people like my husband who read really long nonfiction books. But that’s about the extent of my knowledge.

“We want to go inside!” Joey shouts to me and his sitter.

“Ok,” I say. Because I am game and cool and Super-mom.

We all walk in the little house and the kids immediately run to a large glass case which houses an elaborate replica of the Battle of Brooklyn.

Then a woman who works at the Stone House comes in and tells the kids that the battle we are studying occurred in the very spot on which we stand.

“That’s that the house that we are in now?” Primo asks, pointing to a tiny replica.

“Yes, it is,” Stone House lady confirms.

“Why is there a big hole in the roof?” he asks.

“Because the British fired a cannonball into it.”

I could tell this line of questioning was heading in a risky direction.

“Why are those guys lying on the ground?” asks Eddie.

“Well,” says Stone House lady, a little anxiously, “They probably got shot,”

“What about those guys who are lying in the river?” adds Primo.

“Those too,” she responds before excusing herself to take care of a pressing matter in the office upstairs.

Then Seconda, never one to be left out of a conversation, even one that is over her head, inquires, “Where are their mommies?”

“That’s a good question,” I reply, now fully responsible for this impromptu Q and A, “Their mommies are probably at home waiting for them to come back.”

And then Joey, the elder of the group, old enough to face the awful facts we are trying to sugarcoat, asks, “What about the mommies of the ones who died?”

You know, when I think about the days when my kids were newborns, I think of the sleeplessness and breastfeeding tribulations and the crying, and I remember that that was tough. That was tough but this is hard. Revealing these unyielding truths to a child, not much more than a baby himself -- that we die, not only die but suffer, that we make others suffer, that we lose things we can never get back. That I am powerless to stop it.

What’s mastitis to that? Its heavy, the burden of that. It’s hard.

So a big thanks to Old Stone House lady for fielding the easy questions and then taking off when the shit hits the fan.

But there is a question pending: What about the mommies of the one who died? Where are they? What are they doing?

“Well,” I answer, “they’re probably crying.”

And I leave it at that.

We check out the mannequin wearing a Revolutionary War uniform, and talk about bluecoats and redcoats and

Paul Revere and then its time to eat dinner. So Eddie and Joey leave with their babysitter, and we walk home and play with sidewalk chalk on the stoop until the tiny figures laying in the glass dome and their unseen weeping mothers are forgotten.