tornadoes + fear

In Maya’s preschool class, the kids are learning about weather.

Apparently, one day was dedicated to tornadoes: discussion of the cause, safety precautions we take, etc. Critical as this is from an education-standpoint — we do live in the Midwest and tornado safety is ingrained in us all in the form of sirens/drills — that lesson planted the seed for my daughter’s first legit fear.

The first time she mentioned a tornado to us, we were floored because we never had discussed this weather phenomenon with her. I was shocked she even knew the word, til I saw on her daily report that they had learned about them in school.

Exhibit 435: I don’t know what she knows …

Well … I do know this: Maya’s fear of tornadoes is very real and has mounted more and more the past few weeks.

Every time the sky darkens, she asks — voice tinged with anxiety — “Mommy, is there gonna be a tornado?” (pronounced tur-naydo) “If the sky gets dark and the rain comes, will there be a tornado?” “We will go hide in the basement if a tornado is coming, right?”

Hearing her little voice quiver just breaks my heart, but this is the first of many real-world fears that she will have to face.

We’ve tried reassuring her. Soothing her. Calming her anxieties. But the fear is still there. In fact, I’ve even heard her talking to her dolls about tornadoes, making up scenes — “It’s OK, baby. I will take care of you when the tornado comes. We will be OK, baby.”

This is her first real “fear,” and the tricky part is — unlike monsters or ghosts or any other typical childhood fear that’s unfounded … this one is legit … and dismissing it isn’t the solution. Addressing it head-on is.

When I was eight, my house burned down.

Until recently, I’ve been afraid to light candles. And I have to fall asleep with a TV on. Something about security, the humming sound, the light … I don’t know. But I’ve never truly overcome the fears the fire ignited in me.

I’ve driven all the way back home or Metroe-d back to my apartment in DC when I feared I’d left my curling iron on. Some fears just never go away. We can keep them at bay by facing them — but they are still there.

I was three, screaming at the top of my lungs in my room. “Sca-bby cats are getting me! They’re coming!”

Hot skin, feverish, scratching at nothing. Pajamas stretched out from pulling so hard. Breath heavy. Scared. My parents’ hugs helped, but I never got over them. Sca-bby cats. Whatever the hell they were.

It was my first nightmare — a recurring one, at that — and one that lasted throughout my childhood.

Sliding backwards down a hill, full speed … waking just before the car crashes. I’ve had that recurring dream my entire life — since as early as I can remember and long before I ever knew how to drive. Often there’s a lake or body of water the car is about to careen into.

Even at 34, I wake hot, scared, and clinging for dear life to my pillow — as if it were the steering wheel. As if it could make a difference.

The missed bus incident: my first brush with anxiety, and it set the tone for much of my life. I am forever an anxious traveler, anal-retentive about time, petrified of being late.

… And I fell in love with a man for whom time is just something the clock reads 😉

I share these examples because fears are real.

They can be debilitating … or they can be managed (with age and experience and some coping mechanisms) — but there is no denying their impact. I don’t think Maya’s fear of tornadoes is going to set her on the path to anxiousness like her mama … but I also think it’s a good gut-check to just keep an eye on her and work with her to assuage her fears: real or imagined.

Three is a very critical age –their little imaginations are had at work, putting together pieces that make up their worlds in ways we wouldn’t even fathom.

As a parent, you don’t want to laugh off any fears or unnecessarily create fears, either. Like many aspects of parenting, it’s a delicate balancing act.

Oh–and rest assured, we will not be watching The Wizard of Oz anytime soon …

How about you? Do you remember your earliest fear(s)?

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