In a fun twist on my usual weekend reality, we buzzed down to DC for a half-weekend trip. My best friend from college, who has lived in California since the mid-1990s, is moving to Milan (yes, as in Italy) next year. Being Supermom, she has systematically planned a crash-course in Touring the US 101 for her boys, ages 9 and 8, giving plenty of first-person material for their American Studies courses in Italy. Happily for us, this included the pre-Turkey-Day visit to the capital and we were included.
Other than poor timing making me whiff on several personal milestones I desperately wish I hadn't (e.g., missing a birthday party for one of my son's friends yesterday, whiffing on the fact that TODAY, not next week was my best friend's anniversary---not that I was maid of honor or anything, sheesh), it was a good trip. We also learned that Son 1 is currently incapable of sleeping in a hotel room. (Hmm. An English teacher might call this "foreshadowing." Stay tuned.)
We also learned that his new favorite song, thanks to their dad getting fed up with kiddie music, and playing Dean Martin at bedtime instead, my oldest's favorite song is "Standing On The Corner (Watching All the Girls Go By)." Which he chose to sing, at volume level 8, as he wandered past the Vietnam Memorial. Probably not very appropriate. But I'll bet a lot of them would have understood. Or at least I'll soothe my mortified mommy soul that way.
All those boys. (And girls, I'm sure, though we only saw boys' names.) All those moms. All those families. All those friends. "Why did they die?" my son asked, and there it was again, one of those questions I have really known they will ask someday, and here's the day and I don't know what to answer. We had already talked about how we were there to say "thank you" to them, and we had talked about respect and honor when explaining that ducks can swim in the water at the new WWII memorial but boys can't...but the "why did they die?" is one I still struggle with. I adore and respect the Quaker tradition I was raised in by dint of my town, and I tend to be right there with them on almost everything. But I can't help but think that we still need someone "on that wall," as Jack Nicholson puts it in A Few Good Men. But the whole idea of war is just...so needlessly wasteful to me that I can't really come up with a good answer for him, my son who is starting to toy with guns.
So we rubbed some names of soldiers we didn't know, and asked God to take care of them, take care of us, and thanked him for allowing us to live in this country. Then we went to play football on the grass of the national Mall, with the rubbings of the names tucked safely in the stroller. I swear some of the ghosts of those soldiers, those boys, were there with us, remembering their own days of playing football with brothers and friends on grassy fields.