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My Heart Hurts

It’s Sunday night at the end of February vacation week here. Between traveling to DC, play dates, trips to the trampoline park, a snowstorm, shopping, and an aquarium visit, I’m feeling pretty zapped. Season 1 of Bridgerton was streaming in the background for a bit, but I turned it off, opting for some YouTube music to keep me company instead.

I know I’m not alone in confessing that this world can feel incredibly overwhelming sometimes. And as much as I use this blog to quip about parenting, dating, and my crazy children, it’s also a cathartic way for me to process bigger issues I’m dealing with - a written form of therapy.

Tonight, as I scan Instagram and Facebook, tune into CNN and the BBC, I stand with the rest of the world, holding my breath and anxiously awaiting the fallout of the developing situation in Ukraine. While tonight’s post is a bit more serious and a general departure from my norm, I hope you’ll stay with me as I attempt to convey my personal thoughts, fears, and worries as a mother - for Ukraine. For our children. For this world we are leaving them.

I don’t claim any experience as a political analyst, nor do I have a degree in international relations. I won’t be providing military strategy. I can’t wield a gun. I will never write a speech to bring a nation to their feet. But I am a mother. And tonight, my heart yearns for the people, for the mothers, of Ukraine. From the videos of fathers kissing their wives and children goodbye as they depart for safety, to a viral story of a father entrusting a complete stranger to help his children cross the border to their mother anticipating their arrival, to the women who are taking up arms, determined to protect the nation they love in the same fashion as their husbands, brothers, and fathers do - I literally cannot fathom the pain these families are experiencing. As a mother, these are choices I’d never want to face, yet I find myself questioning what I’d do. Would I send my children away, remaining behind to fight off the bad guys? Or would I flee with them, hell-bent on keeping my family as intact as possible? I realize, as I sit here in the comfort of my four-bedroom home, with a fully stocked fridge, and not a single real fear to worry about, that the fact I even have the wiggle room to daydream about these scenarios is a privilege - a privilege many will never have the luxury of knowing.

I’ve read abbreviated versions of political analyses and I’ve digested the watered-down summaries of what’s at play here between Russia and Ukraine. But what I didn’t account for, or expect, was how my children would process this. You see, at nearly 11 and 9.5, they’re at an age where they are just beginning to encroach on the concept of awareness – that there is a life beyond their backyard and events that occur that resonate across this world they live in.

About a year ago, I gave my children a pay-as-you-go smartphone (please, hold your judgment for just this one post). Christian immediately became hooked on the news alerts that he received as push notifications. I recall struggling with whether or not to adjust his settings, to ensure he wasn’t reading things that were “above” his maturity. I decided not to, and the alerts became a talking point for us to connect over. Yes, sometimes he read things that were a bit heavier in content than I’d offer up to him normally, but I found he also started to have a global perspective (or at least a national one).

This week, as those same news alerts pushed across his phone, I was slapped with this question again: how much do you tell him?

“Mom, what’s going on with Ukraine and Russia? Why does it seem like Russia is always the bad guy?” Granted, his extensive knowledge of world politics draws heavily on his background knowledge of the Marvel Universe, Captain America, and Hydra. Either way, I was at a crossroads - downplay what was really happening and keep the two of them in their protective bubbles just a bit longer or put what he had already read and heard about in a context he could understand, break down, and feel comfortable enough to ask questions.

So we talked about it. And talked about it some more. Ashamedly, I hadn’t read up enough on the subject, and needed to double-back on a few sources to provide them with the facts in kid-friendly form. They struggled with the seemingly frivolity of it all: Why did Putin need Ukraine? Wasn’t Russia already big enough? Can’t they just leave them be? What’s a democracy? Why is Putin lying? What will happen to all those families? What's NATO? Will the U.S. help? I don’t want to be bombed if Russia gets mad at us - I’m too young to die!

I didn’t have all the answers. And if you’re a parent, you know how defeatist that feels. Our children look to us to explain the hard concepts - the ones too big for them to grasp on their own. And when we can’t? Well, that’s when those ideas become scary. That’s when a bit of that shell that’s been protecting their fragile egos, sense of stability, views on life, and untouchable innocence - that starts to chip away. And today, in the backseat of my CR-V and from my rearview mirror, I watched my children grow up ever-so-slightly.

Tomorrow I return to work. We’ve spent the last three weeks studying the Holocaust, genocide, and Hitler. We’ve discussed propaganda, euphemisms, and how Hitler convinced an entire country to back his Nazi ideologies. Tomorrow, our conversation will continue. We will discuss the bystanders. Those who stood by and did nothing. The everyday citizens who were good people who chose not to take a stand. I will coach them on how difficult it can be to stand up when everyone around you is going along with something. We will talk about how much harder it is to do what’s right when the consequences are dire. And it won’t take long before one of my students brings up what’s happening in Ukraine right now. And we will talk about all the everyday citizens, from Miss Ukraine to their President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Jewish grandson of a Holocaust survivor, who are choosing to fight, to say “this is wrong” and who stand together, in the name of tolerance and peace.

Which brings me to this. Our children are watching. They are watching their families separate and sacrifice on the battleground that is now Kyiv. They are studying our reactions to the CNN News Report. They are listening as you speak of your neighbors, community members, other cultures. They are witnessing, as you choose to stand and speak for those who cannot. Speak of the wrongdoings - show them what is right. Speak of a world without unnecessary war. Speak of a day where mothers and fathers aren’t forced to choose between impossible outcomes. Speak tolerance to them. Speak of peace.

I can’t tell you how to raise your kid - only you know what’s best for them. But I beg of you, before you dismiss what’s going on in Ukraine as not applicable to you and your family, or too much for your child’s mind to process, please, think on it. There are children across this world, in Ukraine, Russia, and other countries plagued by war, famine, genocide, who are growing up far more quickly than you, or I, or our children likely ever will.

My heart is heavy tonight as I think on this world, the threat of a looming World War III, and the children we are raising who will eventually inherit this mess we’ve made of it. And like with my children earlier today, I don’t have all, or any, of the answers. And for a problem-solver like me, it has me feeling undone. I don’t have a way to comfort my children from the reality that is war, whether we’re directly involved or not. I lack the resources, means, or tact to bring Russia and Ukraine to a peaceful place. And I certainly cannot heal the hearts of all the mothers and fathers and children who remain anxious, afraid, and uncertain of their futures tonight.

But, as any mother would do, I can stand with you. I can support you. I stand with Ukraine. I stand with mothers. I stand with fathers. I stand with anyone who has a hand in raising the children of our world. May we all find a way to co-exist. May we all find a way to leave our children, and this world, in a better state than when we found it.


If you would like to assist in supporting the people of Ukraine, please consider donating to one of the following organizations listed on these sites:

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