Pre-war notes ?? pros, cons, draft cards and thoughts of college in Canada consume the brain

I wake up vaguely worried, distracted, as if I'm in limbo. My nature tends to be cheerful, in almost a mindless Golden Retriever-like way. So I go through my checklist: is it hormones? a full moon? something about the kids? a deadline?

Then I realize -- it's the war. It lurks in the background like a dark, silent shadow, sucking up energy and spreading anxiety. As I write, it is yet to begin, but everyone says it's only a matter of time.

Like many, I've gone back and forth, listening to the pros and the cons of U.S. military action. I believe that idealistic people of good will can disagree about whether we should invade Iraq. At this point, while I think Saddam Hussein is a monster I've come down on the side that says we shouldn't do this war now, we shouldn't do it alone, and we could be heading into real disaster.

So I write to my congressmen. I write to George W. I send various e-mails. I show up at the protest that starts at Hennepin and Lagoon and find thousands of people carrying home-made signs.

Then I tell myself to let it go. To keep worrying and fretting about the war is another form of surrendering to it -- sort of like letting Geraldo Rivera move into my living room. As my husband keeps reminding me, we still have a pretty good life in this corner of Minneapolis. He tells me to do what good I can do, but to stay in the present. Focus on the real people who cross your path and love them. Go walk around the lake. Notice the daily, beautiful things that are still there.

He's so right, I think. So I walk around Lake Harriet late at night and notice the two wooden chairs, sitting down by the ice-rink. We lost the warming house this year due to budget cuts. But someone brought these chairs, where people can sit and lace up their skates. Or sometimes just sit and enjoy the view. The chairs have sat here all winter, undisturbed, a simple invitation, a kind offer from a stranger. This is what's true, and it's far more real than a war across the ocean that hasn't even begun yet.

Then I realize, dammit, I'm thinking about the war again.

"How long do you think the war will last?" my 13-year-old son asks over breakfast one morning.

"Not long," I say, deciding to sound optimistic. "According to the military, maybe a week. Maybe a month."

Then I remember asking a similar question a long, long time ago. I was sitting on my parents' bed, watching my mom take pink sponge curlers out of her hair, listening to the CBS news say three U.S. military advisers had been killed in Vietnam. It was 1964. I was seven years old and already bizarrely fixated on the news.

"When's the war going to be over?" I asked.

"Soon," my mom said, combing out her hair. "Real soon."

She was wrong, of course. The war went on and on. Our POWs didn't come home until I was a sophomore in high school; Saigon fell during my senior year. Four years later, right after I graduated from college, I worked in refugee camps in Indonesia, dealing with waves of "boat people" pouring out of Vietnam.

By then, I was 22. It had been 15 years since I'd first asked when the war would be over. Sitting at a table in a hot, dusty camp, interviewing thousands of Vietnamese who had survived the ocean journey but lost everything else along the way, it sometimes felt as if the war hadn't ended at all.

I tell myself this next war won't be like Vietnam. I tell myself my kid won't be sitting in some dusty location, 15 years from now, still doing clean-up duty. I tell myself there won't be a draft -- I have to, my other son is 15.

Late at night, I let Geraldo Rivera into my living room and I reel through this apocalyptic scenario: the war bogs down, spreads across the Middle East, our casualties go through the roof, and three years from now we need a draft . . . and my son has turned 18.

The other night my son was hunched over his geometry book, cramming for a test, and I blurt out helpfully, "Maybe you should think about Canada for college. It's cheaper anyway. There's some great schools in Toronto and Montreal. And if there's a draft . . .. "

He stares at me. "Mom," he says. "Would you just stop? I mean, what am I supposed to do right now? Stop studying and just plan my escape from the country in three years?"

Man, he's right. I tell myself to act like a normal mom. Get a grip.

Later that same night, I take my 13-year-old son to a soccer clinic. I'm standing around in an indoor soccer dome, chatting with three other moms on the sidelines. I don't even know their names. But it turns out they all have sons in high school. So I ask, "Has anyone else thought about the draft and Canada?"

"Yes!" they all shout, practically pouncing on me. It turns out each has a plan to get their son across the border. A friend with a cabin. A cousin in Vancouver. An escape route through the BWCA.

I think we're all crazy. Then I think, no, we're all mothers.

Driving back home, I go past the Lake Harriet bandshell. The moon is up. The wooden chairs are still sitting by the ice rink, a modest little reminder that life here remains lovely and sweet.

The next morning, I wake up feeling vaguely worried, distracted, as if in limbo.

Lynnell Mickelsen is a Linden Hills writer. You can reach her c/o the Southwest Journal or at [email protected]