I'm a long-time pacifist. At the age of 5 I decided to give the card game "War" a less threatening title: "Flower." Last Halloween, my husband and son dressed as soldiers, and in protest, I dressed as a hippie, peace symbol on one cheek, the word PEACE on the other. And I'm in total agreement with that bumper sticker from the '60s-"What if They Gave a War and Nobody Came?"
Surprisingly to some, I also believe in celebrating Veterans Day. Schoolchildren across America have the day off to honor this holiday, but most of them view it as an opportunity to sleep in, play Nintendo and maybe watch a movie. I suspect that most kids have no idea why they are being granted a three-day weekend. Ask a child or two, "What is Veterans Day? Why is it a holiday?" and see if you get any good answers.
Only as an adult did I fully realize that Veterans Day (Nov. 11) is a day set aside to honor and thank those veterans of the armed services who are still living. It's a chance to express gratitude to these people for giving us the gift of living in a free country where we can express our views on war, government and anything else we feel passionately about. In contrast, Memorial Day (observed the last Monday in May) is a day to remember those who died in service to our country. It's an opportunity to honor the memory of courageous men and women who fought and died so that the rest of us wouldn't have to.
A few years ago on Veterans Day, I dragged my children (then ages 4 and 6) to the Seattle Veterans Museum. I wasn't sure what to expect. I knew only that I wanted my children to understand that Veterans Day meant more than a chance to stay in their pajamas all day and watch cartoons. I was apprehensive -- what if this place was frightening or not appropriate for children? Still, we went.
What an amazing experience. The hands-on exhibits were educational ("feel how heavy this helmet is," "look at these pictures of brave soldiers"), and I delighted in watching my children shake hands with, and say "thank you" to, the wonderful veterans who guided us through the museum. It was a humbling moment for me when I realized that in all of my years, I had never honored a veteran on Veterans Day.
I'm still a pacifist. But I've learned that I can love peace and honor our veterans. This Veterans Day, maybe you and your family can honor them, too.
Jennifer Perrow is a Seattle-based freelance writer, and the mother of two elementary-age children. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in the November, 2007 issue of ParentMap.