What you do with other people’s kids? Well, you feed them, of course. You figure out what’s in your fridge that resembles what they’re used to at home. You talk to them. You find out if they would like to make a picture with paints or magic markers (though you secretly hope they say magic markers which are so much easier to deal with). You make them feel safe and loved when they come up to you looking a little scared wondering why mom hasn’t picked them up yet, and you say she’s almost here, she just called as she was leaving work — you’re hoping that accident on the Parkway isn’t going to add another hour to this kid’s wait–and wouldn’t you like to pick out a video: Magic School Bus? Dora the Explorer? You find out if they want white milk or chocolate milk, chicken nuggets or meatballs, a Power Puff Girls cup or a Barbie cup.
These are what you do for other people’s kids.
One of the things you don’t do to other people’s kids is bomb them and burn them alive. And blow the limbs off their little sisters and blind their little brothers. And send their mothers (stained with blood and stuck all over with little pieces of broken glass) running away from flames, shrieking with grief.
You just really don’t do that.
And you don’t kill their daddies. And you don’t steal their countries and their assets. And as for how you act when a kid comes up to you and says he’s thirsty, well, you find out if he likes ice cubes or just plain water, sippy cup or big boy cup or the Spiderman sports bottle or would you rather have the last inch of apple juice from the bottle in the fridge. You don’t cut off their drinking water and make them desperate with thirst and sick with cholera.
And let me tell you, you just do not turn off their electricity! You’re supposed to turn on the night-light so they aren’t scared. Why on earth would you cut off their electricity?!
And you certainly don’t leave radioactive containers lying around for them to drink out of. Or unexploded bombs for them to play with. No, you just don’t find that in the baby-proofing manuals.
You don’t make their moms afraid to go out for fear of being robbed and raped. You don’t break down their door in the middle of the night and hold machine guns to their older brothers’ faces. These are just things you don’t do to other people’s kids.
And your neighbor’s grown kids? You ask them if they could please feed your cat and water the lawn while you’re away. You need the money, we’ll pay you $50 for the week, that sound fair? You ask them what colleges they’re thinking of applying to. You nod approvingly when they say pre-med or something to do with computers. You don’t sit by and accept the fact that their leader is sending your neighbors’ kids off to have the most unimaginably scary, sickening experience of their lives for no just cause but simply to allow some rich people in certain corporations to get even more obscenely rich. You don’t sit in front of the TV and allow yourself to be brainwashed into thinking Saddam is connected to Osama and Iraq has weapons of mass destruction (when the facts do not support this). You don’t just figure, well, my neighbor’s kids are worth sacrificing so we can all feel “safe from terrorists”–freedom isn’t free! — they keep saying this on Fox News so it must be true! You don’t nudge these wonderful, almost-grown-up kids (you have that picture of them at their high school graduation, arms wrapped around each other–oh my gawd, check out those bangs…you don’t nudge these sweet, almost-grown-up-but-not-quite kids who were rug rats not so long ago…you don’t nudge these guys into seeking self-worth by fighting in a war that will leave them permanently shattered and terrorized and scarred– fragile and brittle from the horror–never fully able to stop hearing the screams of scared children and the moans of a dying soldier–friends, stinging with grief and guilt and trauma for the rest of their days.
These are things you don’t do to other people’s kids. Whether they live next door to you, down the street from you, across the country or across the globe. You just don’t do these things to other people’s kids.
MARY WALWORTH, the author of this essay, is a speech-language therapist and mother who lives in New Jersey. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.