Sunday, November 27, 2005

The Tinker Toy Bomb

Mia, my five year old daughter, has developed a sudden and disturbing interest in bombs. Specifically, atomic bombs. She has announced her intent to build one. This arose from a session browsing her children's dictionary. We flipped through pages and discussed windmills, hydroelectrics, guinea pigs, and plumbing. She turned back a handful of pages and there it was: this beautiful, appalling flower in the middle of the page. A mushroom cloud.

"What's that, Daddy?"

She then proceeded to answer her own question. (Damn all those hours spent teaching her to read! Why didn't anyone stop me!?)

"Atomic . . . bomb. What's an atomic bomb, Daddy?"

Mia is extremely bright. I do not believe in telling her pretty lies; but then again I do not think it's right to dump too much reality on a child, either. What with the divorce, she's had quite her fill of reality, I think. So I gave her a quick answer and I tried to pass over the subject.

"Bombs are things people use in wars, to hurt people. Bombs are bad."

"Why are they bad?"

"Well, because they hurt people. Mostly innocent people."

I consider it a mercy that she did not ask me to define innocence (she must have been off her game that night; usually she's quite adept at zeroing in on the most uncomfortable topics). Instead she seemed to accept my crude definition and allowed me to turn back a few more pages and discuss the flaws and virtues of apricots.

Later that night, though, some conflict arose when I tried to give her a little good advice (I can't remember now what it was; probably I told her not to eat the cat). She stormed off to her room, her little face crunched in rage, and screamed over her shoulder: "I'm going to go start a war!" I sat there quietly, disgesting this information and wondering how seriously I ought to take it (did I mention she's bright?). A few short minutes later, she emerged smiling from her room, holding aloft a weirdly menacing Tinker Toy contraption. It bristled with colorful spokes; it had spinning parts. "Look Daddy, I made a bomb! When this little piece falls off, people die!"

She then flung the thing through the air and the proper bit came off. So did much else. She flopped down onto the ground, peered down her shirt, and said, "I see the darkness on me."

I picked up a book today called Nuclear Terrorism, by Graham Allison. Allison is, as far as I can tell, a reputable man. According to his backcopy bio, he is the founding dean of Harvard's "modern" John F. Kennedy School of Government, and served as special advisor to the secretary of defense under Reagan and as assistant secretary of defense under Clinton. One of the primary contentions put forth in the book is that a nuclear attack in this country is all but a certainty.

It's been my pet fear for years. I tend not to talk about it with my friends because I'm afraid they'll think I'm turning into some survivalist nut who wants to build a bunker. But the thing is, part of me does want to build a bunker. A bunker with walls nine feet thick, a hundred feet under the surface of the earth. Part of me wants to get out the map and pick a location as far away from significant metropolitan centers as I can and move there with my daughter. And then build a bunker. Of course, these options are unavailable to me. I rent, so I can't start digging large holes in the backyard (assuming I had the money, which, you know, hah!) Mia's world has already been turned upside down and shaken vigorously when her mother and I separated and initiated divorce proceedings. Even though such a move would satisfy the pessimist in me, who counts on the worst possible outcome, I know that it would be cruel to my daughter. What she needs now, more than anything else, is stability. She needs her father not to succumb to his fears, irrational or otherwise.

So I stay put. And I worry. And I know I'm doing the right thing as far as her psychological wellbeing is concerned. The part of me which grew up during the last twenty years of the Cold War -- the one that heard about nuclear bombs all his life and saw it amount to nothing -- dismisses these fears as hysterical, or at least exaggerated.

But the quiet part of me, the stare-at-the-fucking-ceiling-all-night part of me, sees that hideous flower blooming in D.C., or Atlanta, and considers the radioactive fallout whipped into town by the weather. That part of me imagines tumors popping up like mushrooms in a rainstorm: in me, in my little girl.

Normally I try to keep the father and and doomsayer separate. But then Mia finds a picture in her dictionary and makes a little bomb from rainbow-colored sticks. Her little face is flushed with excitement and pride. And those two sides of me, the warring senses of responsibility, meet, and stare each other down.

And so I help Mia pick up the pieces of her toy, and I wonder: What the fuck am I supposed to do?


At 10:02 AM, Blogger Tim Akers said...

I see the darkness on me. Son of a bitch, dude.

I'm not going to pretend to offer child-rearing advice. I know nothing about children. I do, however, remember quite clearly seceding from my parents at the age of eight. I wrote up a little Declaration, designed a flag, built some citizen-robots out of my Robotix kit and generally huffed around until dinner.

I suppose the one positive thing may be that, um, your daughter thinks that you fall into the innocent category of people? Yeah?

At 3:40 PM, Blogger Nathan said...

Depends on when you ask her! There are times I am sure she would consider me one of the villains. But on the whole, yeah, I think she digs me.

I hope your parents kept that declaration. That's just awesome.

At 3:41 PM, Blogger Melantrys said...

Well, that was a creepy sentence indeed.
If she's bright, keep her away from the "more interesting" news though. ;)

If your profile is up to date, I'm only 2 years younger than you. Somewhere I still have a little notebook full of poems (funny ones) that I loved as a child, page after page filled with the careful writing of a kid in grade school, and the occasional picture. One page contains my musings on the Arms Race and the Cold War. Pretty observant stuff wrapped in simple words...
Hm, dunno why I'm mentioning that, really... ;)

At 10:14 PM, Blogger Nathan said...

Hey Melantrys. My profile is in fact up to date, though I'll be 35 on Dec. 31. I intend to celebrate the event by staring into a mirror and screaming, "Why!? WHY!!??"

It's cool that you still have the stuff you made as a kid. I know I intend to hang onto Mia's stuff, so if she wants to look at it later she'll have to borrow it from me.

What part of Germany do you live in?

At 1:40 PM, Blogger Melantrys said...

The wonderful county of Nordrhein-Westfalen where hardly anyone seems to be able to master the fine arts of grammar or keep themselves from adding d's and t's to the ending of certain words that should be ending with an n.

*whimpers a bit*

On kids and their products, my 41-year-old sister recently asked me if it was ok if she finally threw away the cardboard car I had made for her as a kid. It kept losing one wheel anyway.

At 11:31 PM, Blogger Nathan said...

Yeah, grammar's a bit challenging for folks here in North Carolina, as well. I feel your pain.

At 12:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

what a good kind girl shi is!


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