If you’ve studied the long term effects of survivors of wars and political upheaval, the ones who went through food insecurities, medical supply shortages, rationing, people in a constant state of uncertainty–you’ll know that it will genetically impact their children, as well, even if the children are born in a time of peace.
Picture this: Katniss and Peeta have children. Katniss is holding her baby girl in her arms, marveling at his chubby arms and legs. She can’t believe there was ever a time when she was this happy and healthy, so unaware. She wonders when her daughter will grow out of this baby-fat stage and how much it will sadden her to see the beginnings of development.
It’s three years later. Katniss’s daughter is running around on stumpy little legs. Katniss giggles at seeing the child so uncoordinated, but she is her mother’s daughter, right? It’s amazing how the little girl hadn’t seemed to grow out of the baby fat-phase yet. Perhaps it was an indicator that she would grow to be tall. She and Peeta weren’t tall, but she vaguely remembers her father towering over her. Then again, it could be the result of being so young when he passed away.
She’s seven years old not. Her daughter isn’t fat, exactly, but she’s certainly not thin. Peeta once told her that it was the first time a generation of district twelve children were a normal weight and even had the option of being heavier-set. He was beaming, looking at their daughter with pride. Katniss agreed, mindlessly rubbing her belly swollen from four months of pregnancy, knowing she would never be that big naturally, knowing that after her second child, she would probably be lean again and never be anything but lean again. Not by choice, necessarily, but habit from circumstances.
Katniss is watching her twelve year old daughter argue with her smaller son. He wants to follower her around everywhere and she’s irritated. Katniss had never seen such a heavy-set child. Well, that’s not true. In the capitol–but Katniss did not let herself think about the capitol anymore. Katniss watched her daughter try to be patient with her exuberant four-year-old, but every now and then she would huff and snap.
“Madge,” she called to her daughter. “Play with your brother. He’s only following around because he wants to know you care.”
The twelve-year-old leveled Katniss a look of contempt, and Katniss was alarmed to feel a pang of… unease. But her daughter rolled her eyes and sighed, extending a hand to her little brother.
“Come here, Finn, let’s go see if they have anything interesting in the market.”
Katniss smiled at her daughter in gratitude upon seeing the joy that sparked in her son’s eyes at the suggestion, and Madge smiled back at her with an amused shake of her head.
Katniss felt warmth behind her and allowed herself to press back against the heat of her husband’s broad chest, relaxing tension she had been collecting like armor for nearly two decades as he wrapped his arms around her.
“You okay, Katniss?” Peeta murmured into her hair as he pressed a gentle kiss to the top her head.
“Of course. Finnick finally stoped crying and there’s some peace and quiet around here,” she said easily.
“That’s not what I was talking about,” he said devoid of judgement.
“I know,” Katniss whispered.
“I see you watching her.”
Katniss tugger her lower lip into her teeth with apprehension.
“It’s okay. She’s not like them, you know. She will never be like them.”
“I know,” Katniss repeated.
Madge is turning sixteen. Katniss never thought she see a child of hers grow up into a young woman. She never thought she’d be alive to do it. She helps braid her daughter’s hair into a crown atop her head. Madge has a gentle smile that’s being highlighted by the smack of color painted on her lips. She’s wearing a new dress that Katniss bought her for her celebration.
None of hers or her her mother’s had fit her.
But that’s okay, she reminds herself. It’s a good sign, Peeta would probably tell her. Peeta, who had taken their eight-year-old to wrap the present he had carefully chosen out for her from the town vendors–a hand carved hair brush. Peeta had paid for it, of course, but Finn had been very proud of choosing it out.
Later that night, she watched her daughter open up the present in front of dozens of invited guests. Katniss felt uncomfortable around so many people, but she knew that it was important for her daughter to make normal friendships.
Madge enveloped her younger brother in a big hug, delighted at the gift. Finn puffed out his chest in pride at having given a good gift. When Madge opened her next present, a pair of shiny earrings from a classmate at school, Katniss pretended not to notice the way her daughter’s smile seemed a little more wide, her eyes a little more bright.
“It’s normal, sweetheart,” she heard in her ear. She felt a flash of irritation and fondness at the nickname.
“What is?” she asked, momentarily distracted from the proceedings in front of her. She turned to look at her mentor who looked to be dissecting her thoughts with an appraising eye and vaguely amused smirk.
“She is.” he gestured toward Madge with a tilt of his head. Katniss refused to blush from being called out. She had decided to stop feeling shame years ago.
“Her being normal is normal.”
“I don’t think-”
“Yes you do.”
Katniss swallowed a lump in her throat and held her head high, pointedly ignoring Haymitch, who was gesturing around the room.
“You look at all these fancy decorations, fancy drinks, fancy foods, and it reminds you of all those parties where you could only enjoy them if you were evil. Or complicit in evil. Then you look at your daughter and you see her enjoying it all. But she isn’t evil for enjoying it.”
Katniss was tempted to say “I know.” But she was tired of saying that, and she was starting to think that maybe she didn’t know, after all. Haymitch took that silence as a cue to continue.
“You can’t enjoy things like this. You see it as excess and you’re primed to take what you need, not to receive things that you don’t. But just because you’re satisfied with simply not suffering doesn’t mean that Madge should settle for that, too.”
Katniss looked at Madge, laughing and enjoying being casually touching and being touched by people without fear.
“You earned peace. Let her enjoy happiness.”
Katniss turned to Haymitch, who actually looked somber, as if his advice wasn’t just about Katniss, but coming from somewhere Haymitch had already walked through.
And that was the crux of the matter, wasn’t it? It wasn’t that Katniss didn’t trust her daughter, it was that she didn’t trust happiness. Being carefree. Being soft.
Haymitch jutted his chin out to the direction of the party again, and she saw Peeta pass Madge a gift that was from him. Peeta seemed unafraid of the happiness his daughter had, the ease by which she lived. He was never half-starved before the events. But he did learn to fear touch because of the hands from his household.
And yet he touched their daughter without hesitation. He touched her without hesitation. He was unafraid of loving the life they had built, and Katniss marveled at it. Some days it seemed as if she was waiting for a strong gust of wind to blow it all away.
But then Peeta looked up and caught her eye. And his eyes softened when he smiled at her. And Katniss thought that maybe soft things weren’t implicitly evil or complicit in evil or waiting to be destroyed.
“It’s a good thing you have here,” Haymitch commented. “It would be a real shame to waste your time by fearing it.”
Katniss looked at her daughter once more. A belly with pudge, eyes lined in dark brown makeup, hair glossy with creams. And then she really looked.
Eyes dancing with light. Skin glowing with health. Shoulders loose, without the strain of tension. A brilliant, wide smile that wasn’t waiting to turn back into a solemn frown at a moment’s notice.
No, Katniss thought. Some soft things are actually not quite evil at all.