Alot of nice people look at you differently when your husband is in a war.
They cock their heads to one side or the other, smile a half smile and furrow their brows with sad eyes as they ask you how you're getting along.
I began noticing this on Jan. 15, the day of the United Nations deadline, which in our house began in the dining room strewn with newspapers.
"That's Saddam," my 4-year-old said, pointing to a photograph of the Iraqi with a mustache who would take his country to war rather than withdraw his soldiers from Kuwait.
"What are they going to do to him, Mom?" Alison asked.
It had been weeks since this subject surfaced in childlike conversation even though her father, the Army reservist, had been in the capital of Saudi Arabia for a month, and I responded with a well reasoned, "Gee, I dunno."
"There's going to be a war," she said, matter-of-factly answering her own question.
The experts' advice for these situations is to tell the kids the
truth, but to explain in simple and comforting language how they are likely to be affected by the feared event.
"Well, if there is going to be a war, it will be far, far from here," I said. "We'll be safe. You don't need to worry about that."
"I've got to worry about that Da Da," she said and went about finishing her breakfast, feeding her fish and playing tricks on Lisa, her nanny.
Assuming a casual air to reassure her was nearly impossible, because my own fear for him was building with the crescendo of events.
First came Secretary of State Jim Baker's failed attempt Jan. 9 to end the stalemate across the bargaining table from Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz. Then came the letter from Riyadh Jan. 12 that said my husband and his colleagues would be packing loaded pistols and restricted to their living quarters and offices indefinitely. Then there were the news photos of U.N. Secretary Perez de Cuellar's ashen face taken after his fruitless meeting with Saddam Hussein in Baghdad. Then came the phone call from my husband the morning of Jan. 14, when he said he was working long hours tying up "last-minute details."
I was watching the newsroom TV when "the minute" arrived the evening of Jan. 16, and bombs carried by American airplanes began falling all over Iraq.
It took a few moments for the horror of the ABC correspondents' reports to register with me, but when it did, I made for the door. I just wanted to hug my little girl.
A good friend intercepted me crossing the room, and I noticed that facial expression for the first time. As a wave of tears swept over me, I felt like a different person. This feeling wasn't entirely concern for my husband, who works at a desk and sleeps a couple dozen miles from the center of Riyadh, although there was plenty of that. Part of it was just feeling vulnerable, unable to control things.
At home that night, I could barely get my daughter to bed with the phone ringing -- relatives calling to find out how we were taking the news of war and offering moral support, friends calling to plan weekend diversions. Another friend from The Sun and his family showed up on our doorstep after Alison went to bed to keep me company in front of the television set, tell stories and laugh. After they left, however, I sat watching the reports alone, as I have done every night since.
I figure that little kids shouldn't have to worry about wars. And as long as I can shelter mine from the details of this one, I will. For several days after the fighting started, I didn't even bring the newspapers with the big, scary headlines in the house, let alone turn on the TV. And we don't talk about war, unless Alison brings it up.
On the third day, she brought it up.
"Sure hope Daddy doesn't get shot by that bad guy," she said over lunch.
In response, I went into detail about the wall around the place where Daddy lives and the soldiers who guard him where he works.
"Well, what if Daddy sees the bad guy, and he doesn't let him come home?" she asked.
"Daddy's not going anywhere near that bad guy. He can take care of himself. You don't have to worry about him," I said, running back the videotape in my mind for a clue to when she might have heard talk about hostages.
"Then what are those troops doing over there?" she asked skeptically.
When I described this conversation for a neighbor who had asked how Alison is doing, I saw that expression on my friend's face.
On the fourth day, we went to the movies to see "Home Alone" and by the time I turned on the television, it was clear that the Scud missiles aimed at Riyadh had failed to kill anybody or cause much damage.
When my husband called last Sunday, he said he had adjusted to the new world order by learning to sleep through Scud attacks. (One whimper out of Alison used to send him leaping out of bed and keep him up for the rest of the night.)
So it is we have all made our adjustments. Ed sleeps. Alison questions. I watch television into the night and wonder when nice people will be able to stop looking at me like that.