Where I grew up on the East Coast, we would sit by the radio and listen to the latest weather forecast to find out what our chances were for that anticipated day off from school called the “Snow Day.” If school was cancelled, we would start planning out which sledding run to hit. Those were the good ole days.
Today, here in sunny Los Angeles, We don’t get snow days; We get “Bomb Days.” And without forewarning, we typically find out right after we’ve dropped our precious ones at school, or better, when we are in a business meeting far away from home.
Fortunately, this time for me, I had recently left my 9-5’er to start my private practice and was home sleeping. I was jarred awake by the clanging of my doorbell, coupled with loud banging on the front door at 7:50 am. The only one that could be so annoying was my cute 10 year old. I expected he forgot something on his way to school, but instead I opened the door and he yelled, “No school! Another bomb threat!”
Eh? Seriously? Whah? My brain as haywire as my hair. We just had one 2 days ago. I turned and looked behind me at the high school football field and suddenly wondered if my house was safe.
I closed the door behind my boy and worried if we should be saying words like “bomb” and “threat.” I want to shield my son from scary thoughts and situations. I don’t want him to be afraid… But, is that realistic? I had to ask myself this question… And while I worried, he walked in, pushed me aside, and threw his backpack on the ground, running for the Xbox. He was stoked.
At least with Snow Days, parents tell their kids to put on their hats and coats and be home by dark. Now, what do we tell them? Don’t forget your bullet proof vest? I asked my son if he was scared? He said “No.” Yet, shortly after, he asked if my BF could come over and “guard all the doors.” This request said a lot more than he was willing to.
A couple days later, when we assumed the hubbub was over, we learned LAUSD closed all of its billion schools today. LA has the second largest school district in the nation. Not a small feat. Then, my sister in law called me as I was figuring all this out in my head.
“What’s going on over there?” She asks, as if I have a private line to Homeland Security.
“I don’t know.”
“I saw on the news…it’s some overseas threat!?” She added.
“It is? You know more than me.” I noticed my voice was flat and I didn’t really want to talk about it. I realized I really had nothing to say. I felt a pit in my stomach. I got off the phone quickly, explaining I’m in the middle of dusting.
So, what do you say? Promise everything will be fine? That doesn’t feel right or sound fair. I should know this answer. I am a psychotherapist, trained to help people with their anxiety and managing difficult situations. But in my Mom Moment, I had no idea. I was, after all, scared too.
So, I tried to figure it out…and here is what I know.
- First of all, Be PRESENT. Turn off your phone, your computer, and the TV. Be close to your children; get on the floor with them. Give plenty of hugs and kisses. Your flight instinct is going to want to takeover and forget all about discipline and routines – This helps us if we are being chased by a tiger. However, it does not help us when we need to pick up our kids from school unexpectedly. So, Parents: Breathe. Breathe and ground yourself before the kiddos get in the car. If you can’t relax, they can’t either.
- Be Open to your children’s needs --- Ask your child, “What do you need?” While trying to maintain a sense of normalcy in the home, Routines and discipline should be followed but be flexible enough to listen and respect each child’s needs.
- Talk. Consider developmental ages when you do this. Children are going to see and hear more than we may like. Wouldn’t you rather be the one to first discuss these issues instead of your child’s seat partner? This is another good opportunity to teach children ways to express feelings.
- Get creative: Draw. Create, write, Act. There is scientific evidence to support that doing something creative is an excellent way to express difficult stuff and quite healing at the same time. Bring out those puppets for the little ones and have them narrate a story.
- Build Character and Model Resiliency: Talk about values and intentions. How do you want to live your life and what kind of person do you want to be? Our children can be strong in the face of adversity. We aren’t the first to deal with bomb threats. Resilience is being able to adapt, be flexible and stable. Let’s show our kids we can lean into this uncertainty and trust that life will go on.
- Love yourself. This may sound unrelated to a bomb threat, but this is akin to “give yourself oxygen first, then your child.” If you have a pure heart, your children will too.
- TRUST. Trust that you have done your best, you have loved your best and there is only so much you can do. Give your child the benefit of accepting that we do not have control over everything and that doesn’t mean life won’t be grand while we manage unsettling situations. Life continues. We are okay.
Perhaps the only thing we do know to be certain is our love for our children. When my two kids come home today, I’m going to hug them tightly and let them ask questions. If I don’t know the answers, that’s okay. The best thing we can do is provide a safe place for them to be curious and find their own answers to whom they want to be and how they want to make their way in the world. We can’t force this, but we can provide the space for their own self discovery.
And even though we don’t have snow here, we do have the ocean nearby. So maybe today, I’ll take them to go build a sand castle instead of an igloo and make snow angels on the beach. I’ll turn this “bomb day” into a “Beach day,” after all.
A version of this was printed online at The Beach Reporter, December 2015