We tend to take the daily news in stride as adults. As shocking or horrific as a news story can be, we're somehow able to view it at arms length, maintaining the distance required to keep ourselves sane I suppose. We treat the news almost like entertainment or gossip starting our conversations with "Did you hear?" or "You'll never guess what happened!"
It was exactly how the conversation started at the dinner table last night. My husband casually said to me, "Did you hear about the sinkhole that swallowed a car on Jeanne D'Arc?" (this is just down the road from us by the way). "Yes!" I almost scream, "can you believe that?!" I mean this is the stuff of movies really and so we continue on our conversation about how terrified the guy in the car must have been, and what a freak accident it was, when I hear my 8-year-old daughter very meekly pop up and say "Can you stop talking about this please?"
I turn to look at her and she has tears in her eyes and her voice is shaking. "Mommy, did that really happen here? I know all about sinkholes from Guatemala." I stop and feel a little ill for her. I know exactly what sinkhole she's speaking of. This one.
This one, that swallowed an entire apartment complex in Guatemala City in 2010 and drops 300 feet below ground level. That sinkhole.
"How did you hear about that Honey?"
"Our teacher told us about it when we were learning about Guatemala last year."
And then it all came out in a flurry of words. She has been terrified of sinkholes since she learned about them. The poor kid has been walking around for months worried that the ground is literally going to swallow her up. And that's not all. She's scared of drowning too. And falling. Of sharks and bears. And of, well, of a lot of things. She let it all come out last night.
She's always been my timid child. The one that doesn't like roller coasters and always asks if there's enough life jackets on the boat. The one that gets a tummy ache every time a thunderstorm rolls in. And after we had an earthquake in Ottawa a couple of years ago, it was six months before I could get her back in her own bed. But it wasn't until last night that I realized how deep, and wide, her fears go.
As much as we could, we tried to reassure her that a sinkhole would not swallow her up and we changed to subject to lighter fare.
After I tucked her in though, I really started to think about all the things an 8 year old would have to fear and I felt awful. I remember how I felt as a child hearing news stories that were beyond my comprehension and thinking for sure the end was near. I remember well the feeling of terror and helplessness. I don't want that for my daughter.
So today, I'll be researching how to handle fears with children and reminding myself to think twice before I say "Did you hear about?" at the dinner table.
*photo credit National Geographic Guatemala Sinkhole
*photo credit CBC News Ottawa Sinkhole