Scorched Earth

Image: Wikicommons Media

I had to run a few errands yesterday, and left the kids with a wonderful babysitter.

As I was driving back from the store, I noticed a lot of smoke billowing on a hillside near our home.

I panicked. Traffic thickened with cars rubbernecking and I leaned on my horn and let loose a string of shouted expletives. They wouldn’t budge. I did a U-turn and took a local short-cut but the smoke was spreading and spreading. I called my babysitter, who reported that she was seeing white ash land in our yard and a lot of smoke in the air.

I have rarely been so terrified. Luckily, our local firefighters were able to quickly control the fire and while it briefly threatened homes it was quickly extinguished. But to watch that fire spread closer to my children while I was powerless to stop it or get them was beyond scary.

Later, I took the kids out for Chinese food and on our way home, I pointed out the black scorched hillside to them. My daughter was extremely disturbed by the damage done to the hill and the land. It really upset her. “The hill got hurt!” she kept saying. Seeing that charred slope was the first time she has noticed that sometimes, bad things happen. She cried and cried. I tried to reassure her that eventually the rains would come and heal the earth and bring back the green grass and the wildflowers. “But, when?” she kept asking, “Tomorrow? Thursday? Friday?” Most poignantly to me, she asked, “Can I make the hill green again?”

I had to explain that no. It was not in her power to make the hill green. Sometimes, we have no control over what happens to our hills, to our lives.

Obviously, I explained this as delicately as I could. But what a difficult message this was to have to impart to a child!

How do you explain the harder aspects of the world to children?

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7 Comments

Filed under Fear, Parenting After IF

7 responses to “Scorched Earth

  1. I’m so glad you’re all okay!! But I’m not at all looking forward to explaining harder facts of life.

  2. I’m glad you guys are all right. I think (gentle) honesty is always the best policy. But I don’t have kids yet, so I may change my tune. Still, I don’t see myself making up a story about some mythical happy farm when the family pet dies.

  3. How scary! I’m glad that everyone is OK.

    I’m pretty honest about hard things with I. … we’ve talked about everything from the death of thousands of people in the tsunami, to miscarriage, to environmental disaster. We talk about what is in our power, and what’s not … how it can be scary when you have no control over what’s going to happen, but that we have engineered our world as best we can so that we protect ourselves in case of disaster. And I reassure him that to the degree I can, I will keep him safe, when I’m there, and other adults will keep him safe when I’m not.

    It’s a tough one. I think kids appreciate honesty, though, and they’re often more capable of handling difficult issues than we give them credit for.

  4. Mel

    That is so terrifying; I’m glad it all turned out okay.

    Those conversations are impossibly hard because what she’s looking for is a promise that you can’t actually keep; one that tells her nothing bad could ever happen.

  5. This reminds me of the Firebird animation from Fantasia 2000. I don’t know if that’s too advanced for her but maybe it would help! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2XGRmaiCpPU&feature=related

  6. How scary! I’m glad the fire didn’t caught on to any houses. I think honesty is the best way to explain things, in age appropiate terms of course.

  7. This is really scary! I think Daryl is right about gentle honesty. I don’t want J to grow up ridiculously sheltered, and it’s important that he understand the world. It’s hard for me to have to tell him things, but he’s going to learn them at some point.

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