What do we tell the grandchildren?

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Lee Hockman

While my wife and I have become reflexive in protecting our grandchildren from the media due to the sensationalism of news coverage and the violence within it, some of the gory details slipped through to our nine year old granddaughter Becca recently. She came home from school asking, “Is it true the government is going to stop?”

I had no idea where to start.  “Ummm, yes.”

“But why, Grandpa, why?”  She looked and sounded scared, as if I had said a tornado was moving through the neighborhood.   The government still existed like a parental extension to her:   a vague, abstract group of people somewhere who, like her family, maintained safety and consistency in her life.  

“Because the politicians didn’t agree to keep it open.”

She looked thoughtful for a moment, her initial panic subsided.  “But isn’t that their job?”  Yes, we had spent many hours telling her to do “her job,” which, in her privileged life of childhood, consists mainly of going to school, attending her piano lessons and emptying the dishwasher. But it was not uncommon for her to hear, in the face of her protests about going to piano lessons, or even to school, that she had to do it “because it was her job.” 

“It is their job.”

“Aren’t they supposed to do their jobs?” 

“Yes.”

“So why aren’t they?” 

“Good question,”  I stalled. In the now almost cliché lament that our sports role models  have let down our youth, it is often overlooked that our government also serves as a role model.   

“Well, here’s what I understand:  Some people in government don’t like a law that President Obama passed. So they want to stop the government so that the law doesn’t keep going.”

Our granddaughter took a deep breath as if trying to make space for this information inside her.  I half expected her to turn away and play as she often does when I over-explain.

But she kept pulling the string.  “Isn’t the law like a rule?”

“Yes.”

“So don’t the politicians have to follow the rules?”  Yes, Becca's parents and grandparents have been reinforcing this concept – following the rules – for many years through hundreds of games of UNO, SORRY and almost all spontaneous family activities. Honey, we follow the rules when we play games.   Like “doing your job,” “following the rules” was one of those comforting  guides to living as a child.

“Well, yes, politicians have to follow the rules.  But, I guess, in this case, they don’t want to follow the rules because they disagree with the President.”

“But when I didn’t like Mrs. Sullivan’s rules, you still said I had to follow them.” Right, Mrs. Sullivan, her third grade teacher, used to impose three minutes of silent time when her class was unruly, a rule my daughter hated.  

She kept at it. “Don’t the politicians have to follow the rules?” I felt trapped in cross examination by a cagey lawyer.  You do have to follow rules.  You are supposed to do your job.  You even have to follow the rules if you don’t like them.  But that is where she backed me into a corner:  You have to follow these guides to civility and order unless you are a politician.  And politicians, it seems, may still be role models, unbeknownst to my cynical mind, to children of a certain age across the country who still see them as leaders, as emblems of how one ought to act. 

“Well, we did tell you that about Mrs. Sullivan.  We said that sometimes you have to follow the rules even if you didn’t like them. Sometimes we all have to do that, especially if the rules are established fairly. Remember you didn’t like the name of your soccer team , the Cheetah Koala Princesses …”

“I hate that name!” 

“But your whole team voted and that name won. So you had to go along with it.”

“Ummm, right.”

I wasn’t sure what point I was making, all of a sudden.  This task was harder than I expected.

My granddaughter summarized, “So the politicians are like me, they have to call their team the Cheetah Koala Princesses even though they don’t want to?”

“Well, not quite, you see because the politicians have decided they don’t like that name so much, they aren’t going to play on the soccer team until the name is changed.”

“But that’s not fair!”

“I know.”

“They are being poor sports!”

“You could say that.”

She further grasped, “So now the team can’t play?” 

“Right,” I said. 

“Can they go get new players?”

“That would be nice. Maybe someday.  But right now they can’t.” 

“So how is the government going to play their game?”

“They aren’t.”  Through all this, we just seemed back at the beginning.

“If the government stops, do I have to go to school tomorrow?”

“Yes.”

“But that’s not fair. If they don’t do their jobs, why do I have to do mine?”

“I guess we have to be better than the government and hope they grow up.”

“Okay. Can we play UNO?”

“Sure.”

But I decided I wasn’t going to make her follow the rules just this one time. I didn’t want to answer any more questions.