A couple of columns ago, inspired by a so-called “accidental” text urging Hawaiians to “Seek shelter immediately … This is not a drill” because a ballistic missile supposedly was headed their way, after which the military was mobilized and some parents reportedly stuffed their children into sewers hoping to shield them from what they believed was an imminent a nuclear blast, I concluded by asking, how the heck do we parent in the shadow of false alarms and fear? Yeah, how the heck, indeed? It’s a head scratcher, for sure, but I think we can. And, well, if the fact that our fellow citizens believed the threat was real is any indication, we kind of have to.
So do we tell the children to stuff their teddy bears into backpacks just in case? Do we stock up on liquor? And what if there simply isn’t time? The brother of one of Jimmy Kimmel’s writers lives in Hawaii. He reportedly was awakened by his kids, who’d already received the terrifying text on their cellphones. Their response? They all hunkered down in bed together and watched cat videos. I totally get that. When I was a kid, my friends and I sometimes passed the time by posing goofy questions [such as] “If you had one day left to live, how would you spend it?” Lord knows what prompted such youthful engagement in existential what ifs, but eating popcorn was always my answer. Ha! Yeah, I’m thinking that’s still the way to go. But it’s not just about me anymore, so I gotta do more than merely pass the bowl, right?
To actually parent through the times we’re apparently in we must face the possibilities and imagine them. That’s hard for me, too. I tried to write about this last week, but found I just didn’t feel like it. So I allowed my thoughts to percolate a bit more and turned in something lighter. (You know, some silliness about how I darted outside in my pajamas again for some quick chore. Way more fun to write.) The thing is, though, our kids are imagining the possibilities, too, and when they ask about them, we need to be ready. We can start by asking what they’ve heard (because they have), and what they think about it.
“When we were kids doing duck-and-cover drills in grade school, I worried a lot,” Deb Saia, my baby-boomer friend, recalled. “[When I was] in about third grade my dad, an engineer, told us not to worry. ‘We live near National Accelerator Lab, [Fermilab],’ he said, ‘which will probably be a target, so things should be over quickly and you won’t suffer.’ I found this oddly reassuring. However, I can’t imagine the terror in Hawaii. All we can do is love one another and hold tight, yet keep active with our voices and votes.”
I think she’s right. We can share with our children that we’re concerned, too, and that we’re doing everything we can to protect them — by encouraging and voting for policies that reduce potential threats, by calling our congresspeople, and by preparing, by exploring and choosing how to manage, no matter the potential threat. Deb reported her emergency bag contains “extra prescription meds, a phone charger (for the car, too), a stack of small bills, wet wipes, protein bars and drinks, undies and a BOOK! Oh, yes, a book!
“I now also keep my gas tank at least half full,” the southern California resident said. “Because I NEVER want to be caught in a fire by running out of gas!” Good point!
We must prepare, yes. And THEN we must play. Because we all, parents included, need a little relief now and then from such big worries and feelings. Without breaks from worry, from vigilance, from fight or flight mode, our central nervous systems simply short out. Our immunity takes a hit, too. So not cool, particularly for the wee ones who take their cues from us about how to cope.
Prepare as you’re able, control what you can, and accept what we you can’t. Take walks, share belly laughs. Because we never really know when our time is up, do we? I don’t know about you, but I intend to squeeze as much joy out of my precious time here as I possibly can. And if the worst happens and we get a crazy text like those poor Hawaiians? Oh, yeah, curling up with my not-so-little loves and watching cat videos seems like a mighty fine way to go. Oh, and please pass the bowl. No skimping on the butter.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.