A Mother’s Cue Cards

We had a snack, played on the swings for a while and then talked some more about atomic bombs. I didn’t know when I woke up that I was going to be answering questions about dropping bombs and the effects of radiation on a human body. The first question, posed while I was opening the patio door to go outside and plant some flowers, seemed a little out of context, but I decided to let it go. “How does a bomb get to another country?” one of the children asked. “They take it on an airplane,” I answered. Ok, let’s let that be it, I thought. Keep moving, get the spade, grab the bag of soil, dig a hole, no more questions.

There were no more, until this one hit me hard at the dinner table a full day later. “Why does the atomic bomb give people leukemia?” Specific. Pointed. Jarring. Time to ask some questions of my own.

“Why are you talking about the atomic bomb and leukemia?” “We’re reading Saduku, or Sadiku, or Sadako, I can’t remember how to say it,” they all said in frustration, with differing degrees of accuracy with the unfamiliar name, questioning each other for clarification on how it was pronounced.

Sometimes—often times—the school gets to decide when you talk to your kids about what. It can be startling, frustrating, and it can corner you at the most unsuspecting of times. It can also be a cue. That little prompt like the turning of a calendar page that tells us when it’s time to start thinking about certain things. I find I don’t like these cues that society hands me, but I probably need them. I remember being in awe of our longtime babysitter and her ability to gracefully hand me a cue card that allowed her to do her job, me to save face and our children to grow into their next stage. “When did you have in mind to get them started on brushing their teeth?” Oh. I guess we are supposed to be brushing their teeth. “I was thinking within the next couple weeks,” she allowed me to lie.  “They do a really good job without their Sippy cups, don’t you think?” she would say. Oh. I guess it’s time to move away from Sippy cups, she allowed me to consider. And on and on.

I doubt it was time to start talking about atomic bombs, but given my track record—maybe most mothers’ track records—at recognizing when children have grown and left behind their last phase, I’m willing to consider it, and answer as many questions about Japan and the atomic bomb as I can handle, or maybe more precisely, as my limited knowledge of the topic actually allows.

Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes is the name of the book, and before the teacher had finished reading it to them, one of the kids checked it out of the school library to finish it faster than the pace of the school day was allowing. He read it out loud to the other two while they listened, all in their pajamas, during the time usually allotted for television. It was a beautiful reward for having to answer questions that seemed too soon and too complicated.

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