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Tales From the Motherhood: Parenting in the age of false alarms

“Did you hear about Hawaii?” Holly asked when I came through the door.

I had. Since it seemed the threat of a nuclear attack there was deemed “false,” I wiped my brow and decided not to mention it, lest I raise any anxieties. But my teenagers don’t live under rocks. Apparently unflapped, they shared, and we discussed news of the myriad reports they’d each heard. Oh, as if I could actually insulate them from such worries! The struggle is real. The impulse to protect is pure, but it can be helpful to hear such things from a parent first. It really can. Where is that dang line, people? I’ll need to dig out my readers to find it. Hard to see, sometimes, isn’t it? And through tears. Oh, my. But I digress.

“We fully felt like we were about to die,” one mom said, following the ordeal that began with an alert sent via text message in big bold letters reading: “Ballistic missile inbound to Hawaii. Seek shelter immediately. This is not a drill.”

Several news outlets reported some parents actually stuffed their kids into sewers, hoping to shield them from the coming blast. Some sheltered in a concrete bunker while others phoned loved ones, including young children, and issued last “I love yous” and excruciating goodbyes. 

Here’s an excerpt of one mom’s report, widely circulated on social media:

“McKenzy called with terror in his voice pleading, ‘I love you, Mom. We just got a missile alert, that a nuclear bomb is on its way to Hawaii, they don’t know which island.’

“McKenzy, I love you. Get water, food, knife, fishing pole, clothes. I love you! I’m sorry the world is like this now … Stay inside. Do not look at radiation. Pray. Hold on to Mercedes, Mia. Pray ... . Maybe it is a false alarm. Maybe it will miss. I love you. Be strong, take care of each other. This is in the category of things you cannot do anything about. Hold on to each other. Are there any shelters? How long ago did you get the warning? If you don’t survive, I love you, I love you, I love you!’

“‘Mom, I’m scared. I don’t want to die,’ McKenzy yelled out, sobbing.”

What utter awfulness. Can you even imagine receiving such a call from your child? A second text, issued a long 38 minutes later (which likely wasn’t immediately received by those in that bunker), doesn’t make one’s experience of such terror, of such trauma, simply evaporate. We are changed by such experiences. (Just ask a baby boomer. Many can recall, some in near-PTSD style, being taught to hide under school desks during civil defense aerial bombardment drills, aka duck and cover drills, of the 1950s and ’60s. And those were just drills.)

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Trump’s whose button is bigger debate with Kim Jong-un, which transpired mere days before this false alarm, should never have happened. But it did. And here we are. Coincidence?

No one could have predicted this level of recklessness, one that risks annihilating everyone and everything. Blaming each other for our myriad votes matters less right now, though, than making it stop. Now. If our current Congress is too spineless to impeach, won’t someone else please intervene? The United Nations? On behalf of a worried world? The midterm elections, coming this fall to a ballot box near you, feel a lifetime away. I’m just not buying the “someone accidentally hit the wrong button” story, which, we’ve since learned was repeated just days later, this time in Japan. Another “oops?” As for the domestic threat, the New York Times reported Lindsay Walters, a deputy press secretary to President Trump, characterized the Hawaii incident as an “emergency management exercise.” Huh? “This was purely a state exercise,” she is quoted as saying.

Whatever the truth about this incident (who can divine such a thing amidst so much spin?), we’ve discovered from our emotional response to it how real we now believe the threat to be. It’s unacceptable that we all should be subjected to suffering the wonders another minute more. We’re being terrorized. Convenient political distraction, perhaps? Or, from tired play books, fear-mongering? A sadistic ploy to win votes for those who’ll claim to save us come midterms?

I don’t even care anymore. Make it stop. How the heck do we parent in the shadow of false alarms and fear? My Mary Poppins perspective and “passports at the ready” posture are no match for this stuff. Should we pack our bags? In a nuclear showdown, would moving even matter? Such threats to anyone, these days, threaten everyone. It’s a small world, after all.

Jennifer DuBose lives in Batavia with her family. Her column runs regularly in the Kane Weekend section of the Kane County Chronicle. Contact her at 

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