It’s Not All Mary Poppins


I stood in my kitchen that winter morning in 1991, my 5-year-old and my 2-year-old playing at the table behind me. Perhaps I was doing the dishes; I often listen to the radio as I wash dishes. And over the radio came the news: the Americans were bombing Baghdad.

I was not surprised. A friend, who was working in the newsroom of a local radio station, had deliberately extended her shift that night, so certain was she that “something dramatic” was going to happen, and soon. She was right.

I was not surprised, but I was shocked. My daughter’s voice, chattering to her brother, was a dissonantly cheerful backdrop to the instant picture in my mind: children screaming in terror and clutching their equally terrified mothers in the dark, as their world shook and shuddered with the impacts, the mothers gaining strength through the act of soothing, even as their hearts threatening to pound right out of their bodies, mothers uttering noises of reassurance when their minds are too filled with chaos to manage words, as their children scream.

These pictures flashed in an instant through my mind — visceral, tearing — and I sagged against the counter and the tears flowed. Tears for those terrified women and children. At that point, I cared less than nothing for the reasons behind it, for the possible rights and wrongs, the necessity or gratuitous-ness of the action.

People were dying. Other people’s children were being terrified and killed. Right now. While I stood in my comfortable Toronto home, listening to my beautiful, perfect children play behind me. Peaceful and safe. And I cried for those mothers and children, terrified in the dark.

Which is why, when I read Joanna Streetly’s essay “Treading Lightly” in the book I’m reading this week, I cried again.

She writes of her response, as a mother, to a Russian hostage crisis in which 331 people, most of them children, were killed by Chechen rebels:

Dead children! This was monstrous! Motherhood stripped me of the filters that keep such atrocities from piercing the heart. I wept and wept. I felt as if these were my children. What is war, I realized, but humans killing each other’s children?

“Motherhood stripped me of the filters…”

It’s true, isn’t it?

And you know what? That’s a good thing.

January 29, 2008 Posted by | aggression, books, parents | 13 Comments