Murray, KY – Shortly after the thousandth American soldier died in the Iraq war, my then-just-six-year-old son and I were visiting my parents. My mother, reading the local newspaper at the breakfast table, had found an article way back on page 8 on a local soldier who had died in Iraq. The six-year-old chimed in, "Yes, over a thousand American soldiers have died in Iraq." Grandma shot back, "No . . . American soldiers are not dying in Iraq," and grandson responded, "Mom, didn't we hear on NPR that 1000 soldiers had died?" The next day at breakfast, Grandma read the article that broke that news in the popular media and she was devastated. "How did you know this," she said to us, rather incredulously.
I know that many parents shelter their children from the news, and it is true that sometimes the news is scary. My son is somewhat more worldly when it comes to the sadnesses of world news, having lost his own father to alcoholism and the drunk-driving wreck which resulted from it. NPR news has been part of his life since he was very young as the only pre-set on the car radio and alarm clock. Last year, when he was 9, I discovered he'd set his own clock radio to WKMS. Rather than finding the news scary, my son finds it explanatory and interesting: it explains what's happening in our world, and he wants to know what's happening in the world; "sometimes it's funny, sometimes it's smart, sometimes I likes the logic they're using," he says. He wants to know what Obama is doing and how he is doing - and he's not just interested in the dog or the daughters. He likes Marketplace Morning Report - why I'm not terribly sure.
In late April, amid reports about Swine Flu and the Chrysler bankruptcy, we listened to a story about Barack and Michelle Obama's habit of touching forehead-to-forehead. And that report triggered a long conversation about what makes a marriage work, and what was good in my marriage to "Daddy" and why that marriage didn't work out - AND what was good and wonderful in that marriage. NPR news has inspired conversations about Grandma and Grandpa and the Great Depression, about what the Supreme Court does and how it differs from other courts and how the Judicial Branch differs from the Legislative Branch, about stocks - what they are and what they do, about blues and jazz and Senegalese musicians and Somali pirates. "There are pirates NOW, Mom?"
So my son knows that the Iraq war death toll for American soldiers is approaching 3500. He knows that Americans are watching President Obama closely. And he knows that pirates don't reside only in storybooks and movies. And he's a happy kid.
I write my check to WKMS -- for my family -- because NPR makes us better people, aware of the complexities of our world. We explore our world by listening to WKMS and NPR News.