The plastic Green Line Express train that runs through our miniature Christmas village was derailed and overturned recently.
My guess is that it was pushed over by the tail on one of our black labs. They’ve cleared several ornaments from the bottom half of our Christmas tree this year, and the village is arranged on a table that’s exactly tail-wagging height.
However, our 8-year-old son took a look at the scene, gasped and provided a completely different theory.
“Maybe it was terrorism,” he said.
Then he went upstairs to get his military action figures so that they could start looking for the bad guys.
Children base their play on what’s going on in their lives, and for our son’s generation, war, terrorism and economic hardship are not scary things — they are simply reality.
Some parents are deployed overseas; some lose their jobs. Some kids don't have elaborate birthday parties because their parents can't afford it; some have family members who returned from war with PTSD.
Sometimes, these kids of the Great Recession remind me of their great-grandparents who lived through the Great Depression. They’re thrifty and patriotic. They’re not afraid to say what’s on their minds. They have a tendency to save reusable things like old Cool Whip containers and scrap paper, and lecture those of us who try to toss those things into the recycling.
In many cases, the two generations even have the same names, because Grandma and Grandpa names were a huge trend during the mid-2000s.
About a year ago, my son told me that he wants to be a veteran, just like his dad and grandpa, uncles and auntie.
“I’m going to be a Marine,” he said. “And if I’m still alive after that, I’m going to be a chef.”
A Marine? Not a Navy airman like his dad, or an Army paratrooper like mine?
Nope, a Marine. He said he made this major life decision after learning all of the Armed Forces theme songs for a school assembly, and well, he liked the sound of the Marines’ song the best.
Back to the Christmas village train: For the sake of our marriage, my husband and I never discuss politics, and we’re not a family that keeps the television on 24-hour cable news, so I’m not sure how my son came up with the terrorism theory. It could have been in a video game, classroom discussion or any number of television shows or movies. It could have been a combination of what he picked up on in the Veteran’s Day school assembly or in talking with his friends on the playground. It could have been generated by a newspaper headline or reference in a textbook.
It could be that I’ve been so busy trying to baby and shield him, I didn’t notice that he’s growing up and is already acutely aware of the world he lives in.
I suppose it’s the way my generation, which grew up during the War on Drugs, would have pretended the derailed train was obviously smuggling cocaine, and that the scene would need to be investigated by Miami Vice. We would have dusted for prints, taken some pretend puffs on candy cigarettes, and set off to look for the bad guys with plastic guns in our hands and purses stuffed with Monopoly money for the narcs.
Our children play what they know. But sometimes, I wish my kids didn’t have to know the things they do, at least not until they’re grownups.