“I don’t want you to go out anywhere on your own mummy, because the bad people might hurt you”. These were the words my nine year old daughter uttered at bedtime on Monday night. I remember so clearly that feeling as a child when bad things happened, the overwhelming fear and concern for my parents and siblings. My little brain would worry endlessly, and play out various scenarios as I tried to sleep.
As an adult I am obsessed with my ‘action and evacuation’ plans, much to the amusement of family and friends. I have strategies for fire, flooding, tsunami, world war three, and a zombie apolocalype. I run through varied scenarios with military precision in my mind as I’m wandering along, or driving my car. I have instructed my family where the meeting points are for all major disasters, and what our plan is to survive. It’s absolute madness I realise, but it helps me to rationalise my fears and put them back in the ‘dealt with’ box. They may ridicule me, and rightly so, but it’s my way of coping I guess.
When I was pregnant with my third child, I had a repeated nightmare about a tsunami hitting my small seaside town. It was so vivid and terrifying I was convinced it was a premonition. I realise of course that my subconscious was projecting my fear of becoming a mother for the third time; I only have two hands after all. Again with my fourth baby, the dreams started again, his time with fire erupting in various rooms. How would I get everyone out, and which order would I collect the children? Once again I ran the scenarios until I was happy I had it covered. Writing it makes me realise how bonkers I must sound, but i can not stop it, so I manage it.
On Tuesday, the rest of the family began talking about Paris and how they felt. The girls were certain they never wanted to go there now, or leave Cornwall for that matter. I explained about the London bombings, and pointed out we had visited many times since and had been perfectly safe at all times. I recall how much fear the IRA incited in my mind as a child, so I was sympathetic to their concerns. Back then, the six o clock news was an institution, and no one escaped the images of burnt out buildings and fire. I remember my parents never letting it guide our choices though, and we never let fear dictate our movements and plans. If they did, they did an excellent job of hiding it from us kids.
In 2015 most of us get our news from social media, and this was certainly true for my teenagers and myself on this occasion. That in itself is interesting, as the ideas and opinions we receive are very unique to our individual friends list.
For me I saw messages of hope, love, peace and tolerance.
My college aged son saw a mixture of rascism, fear and peace. He removed several people over the last few days.
My teenage daughter saw mainly fear and hysteria. “Is this the beginning of world war three mum?” she asked.
I recalled sitting with my mum not long after I had become a mother myself, confessing how scary the world seemed in the Bush years, and how terrified I was for my children to be growing up in a world where such terrible things were happening. She said to me “you know, I felt the exact same way when you were born, only about the Cold War and Russia, and now you are grown up and a mother too. You have to just believe it will be okay”
I repeated her wise words to my daughters.
I continued to explain”for every bad person, there are thousands of good. For every act of hate, you see hundreds of acts of kindness and love. You just have to have faith that it will be ok. I’ve kept myself and you guys safe for decades, you have nothing to fear. Anyway with guns of steel like mine, no one is messing with me and my chicks”
I figured letting them know that when bad things happen, you can’t be guided only by fear was the right call. For me, it was important to be acknowledging that bad things do happen though. I can’t protect them from information in this current epoch; I told them nothing about Paris and they discovered it for themselves. I figure that to be reassuring and clear, but to make them smile in closing was the right call.
They seem to have settled back into safe mode, and the older ones and I have discussed in depth, how you fight back against this kind of atrocity. We all agree that the best way, is to suffocate hate with love and compassion, to fight fear by living and being brave, and to fight intolerance by calling it out when we see it. My children are polite and gracious but they will always be brave enough to say ‘hey, not cool’ if they see something they feel is wrong happening, or being said.
They make me enormously proud.
I guess instead of being manipulated by the front pages into fearing small children because of their heritage, or being suspicious of every person we meet because they appear different, we need to once again look for the common ground. Many millions of us share the same United options that these people are not representing our ideas or beliefs, and they are not all Caucasian Brits, in fact we are probably among the minority . I have yet to come across a Muslim that isn’t as horrified as I am by the acts of terror we have seen in the last couple of years. We have a refugee crisis because hundreds of thousands of people feel the exact same way as us.
As Martin Luther King Jnr once famously said, “darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that; hate can not drive out hate, only love can do that”
Once again, we must stand united in peace and not let fear and hate win.