Before my feet even hit the floor last Saturday morning my firstborn strolled in with the latest news about Kim Jong Un, that puzzling, young communist dictator-guy in North Korea who appears poised to stop at nothing, even a missile strike aimed at longtime foe South Korea – or possibly even, Noah has heard, Hawaii, in efforts to establish his supremacy.
My son was clearly affected by the gravity of this news. I desperately wanted to hear his concerns, but the truth is, I hadn’t even gotten out of bed yet, and, you know, nature was calling. But when a boy speaks his mind, a wise mom drops everything and listens. I winced and crossed my legs.
North Korea is reportedly poorer than Ethiopia. I had no idea. In fact, most of its citizens are malnourished and lack basic electricity or running water, enjoy no freedoms or human rights, and an estimated 200,000 of these poor souls are even confined to concentration camps. Noah explained that the United States is upset that we gave humanitarian aid to Kim Jong Un’s people, which the dictator used instead to strengthen his arms program.
His nuclear arms program. He has since declared a “state of war” on South Korea, our ally, and should he open fire, the U.S. is reportedly prepared to retaliate.
Oy vey. That’s some pretty heavy stuff. I considered making a run for the bathroom before things got worse, but feared that if I did, the spell would be broken and my boy would stop talking. So, I didn’t. “Are you worried?” I asked. He shrugged and continued explaining the delicate arms situation we’re facing, as he understood it.
“But what makes us [the U.S.] any different?” I asked.
Forgive me my ignorance, for I haven’t critically examined Korean politics, let alone much of our own, as it all starts to sound pretty much the same after a while. This guy wants power, that guy doesn’t want him to have it, thus claiming power for himself, and before long, it’s hard to tell them apart.
But this mattered to my son, and hey, he was talking. As any parent of a teenager knows, that’s reason enough to keep listening – so I did.
Noah went on to enlighten me about the legacy that North Korea’s rookie communist dictator inherited from his deceased father and grandfather, also self-proclaimed “supreme leaders,” who left behind a rather odious psychological-warfare playbook of sorts that their progeny seems only too happy to follow. But he’s a bit of a wild card, this one, thus far untested, with only one year at the helm under his belt.
Precious little is known about him though he reportedly enjoys playing basketball – and hates to lose. Not reassuring news, to this mom.
Noah quipped that the fate of the free world may well be in the hands of American Basketball Hall-of-Famer Dennis Rodman, who recently visited with the dictator and is apparently the only American who has ever scored any real face time with him. Again, not exactly reassuring.
After my conversation with Noah Saturday morning, I felt an impulse – as a mom and as a person concerned about what gives rise to such ways of being in a person, that of withholding aid to his suffering countrymen and asserting such a bluster-filled posture on the world stage (this young dictator is only 30, for Pete’s sake) – to sit with Kim Jong Un and quietly listen. What must it be like to grow up in the shadows of such men, his father and grandfather, learning that this is how one manages conflict? “What it’s like to be you?” I want so much to ask.
I imagine holding his hands, if only in my mind, because I believe that that is what facing this darkness requires. Is there a better way to understand – and perhaps even change a heart? Can I possibly really be the only parent who feels this impulse? What would happen if I tried? Maybe I’d end up in one of Kim Jong Un’s concentration camps, perhaps one reserved especially for naive soft-touches. Whatever. But I thought about Noah, and about all of his buddies, swiftly hurtling toward manhood at a time when peace seems elusive, war ever on the horizon and decided I’m not helpless. I’m a mom, after all.
I decided that if I’m gonna pray for peace, and maybe even send that puzzling – and perhaps puzzled – young man in North Korea a few good vibes in the hopes that he and other world leaders have a change of heart, I needed to wake up and get down to it. It can’t hurt. If millions of other mothers and others do, too, it can only help.
But first I had to get out of bed and pee. First things first.
• Jennifer DuBose lives in Batavia with her husband, Todd, and their two children, Noah and Holly. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.