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Explaining the Shutdown to Kids

Photo by Jon Ragel

Usually, when I avoid discussing the news with my kids, it's because I'm afraid all that murder and mayhem will send them scampering back into the womb. But the problem with discussing the federal government shutdown was that it made ME want to curl into a fetal position. Then my 8-year-old son heard about it while we were listening to NPR in the car, and I was forced to try to make sense of it all. Funny thing was, his questions—kid-like and therefore logical—were very close to my own.

Why is the government allowed to just stop doing things for us? Don't you pay them money? ... If everybody has agreed that something is a law, how can some people decide that it's not? ... Does the Government run the zoos? ... Can you just call them "Teams" instead of "Parties"? It keeps making me think they're just having, you know, a party.

So I tried to explain it. Here's what went down:

ME: The government needs money to keep on doing the things that it does, like running the space program. (Hmm, on second thought, shouldn't have gone there.)

HIM: WHAT!? What about the astronauts in the space station!?

ME: They'll be OK up there. The government is still going to pay the people on the ground at NASA who look after them.

HIM: And feed the animals at the zoos, right?

ME: Right. At the zoos they run, which I think might only be in Washington. Our zoo is still open. OK, so listen: All of the lawmakers have to agree that the government can have that money. But some people on the Republican Team are refusing to let the government have the money it needs because they don't like a law that the Obama Team has put in place.

HIM: You mean a law about the money?

ME: No, well, actually, it's not about the money. It's about health care, making going to the doctor more affordable for everybody.

HIM: But that doesn't have anything to do with the money.

ME: Correct. (Oy)

HIM: But isn't it a good thing to make it cheaper to go to the doctor?

ME: Yes. I think so. But the teams disagree about how to do it. See, the Obama Team won the battle about health care. Their plan was voted on, and they won, and it became a law. The Republican Team wasn't happy and asked the judges at the Supreme Court to stop the law. They sometimes get to do that. But the judges said, No, the Obama Team won. Make it a law. So really, the Obama Team won twice.

HIM: Can we get Fro Yo after our piano lesson?

ME: Stay with me. (As if.) So, the Republican Team won't vote "yes" to give the government the money it needs to operate until the Obama Team agrees to change the law to be more like what the Republican Team wants it to be. But don't worry. All the things you need will still be taken care of.

HIM: Can we get Fro Yo BEFORE piano?

ME: Sigh.

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