Calmly Talking To Your Kids About The End Of The World

I try to put a positive spin on everything. After years of living through countless catastrophes on a planet based mostly on fear, I put a lot of worries to the side.

Of course, I’ve been wrong at times. I ignored years of uncomfortable “episodes” only to later learn that they were mini-heart attacks. A quintuple bypass changed that point of view. It taught me that caution is important but worry, still, got you nowhere.

So, when the four horsemen of the apocalypse started riding through the 24 hours news cycle and the world started ending last week, I wrote it all off as more business and more usual. It was the same old, same old for a dad who was the same old, same old. My daughter asked me questions about what was happening… as if I knew anything.

Are they going to cancel my school musical?

No. That probably won’t happen. A long time ago, everyone was freaking out about SARS. It was like the Coronavirus. But it ended up OK. I mean, they might cancel it, but I really doubt it.

She’s been obsessed about that musical since her first successful audition; working on her dance routines and turning to me for help writing original narrations for Jersey Boys and Little Shop of Horrors. She couldn’t have been more excited to perform it.

eotwAnd she couldn’t have been more disappointed when they cancelled it on Friday, one week before the opening curtain.

I watched, in shocked silence, as everything started to get cancelled. Basketball, school, Tom Hanks…everything. While my local supermarket wasn’t quite out of toilet paper yet, they were out of other stuff and the empty shelves here and there were enough to give me pause. The sky hadn’t fallen yet. But, man, it felt like it  was closing in.

Still, I’m cool. Whatever. I lived in New York on September 11th and remember having a similar feeling at the time. Everything was crumbling, but we all rose up and marched on. I wish I could say that everyone was alright after that, but we weren’t. Selfishly, I was alright after that. When that happens, it feels like everyone is alright. In reality, it was a bigger deal to the lives of some than others. This could end up being the same thing.

I’ve been trying to put it out of my mind and live life as I have been. On Friday, after the epic end of the middle school musical production, I sat on the couch with Olivia, watching Goosebumps and trying to take her mind off of things with an overpriced vat of Italian Ices. Things were fine. Then she asked me.

Am I going to die?

Have you ever had one of those shocking moments when your kid says something that makes you want to scream or freak out, but you can’t? A voice in your head screams, “Be cool! Maintain!” That’s what happened here. I went into full scale Undertaker mode and no-sold the horror that a statement like that brings with it. I gave her a smile and responded almost immediately.

No. You won’t. I mean, you need be careful not to get sick because it’s not like they have medicine for it, so you might stay sick a while if you get it. It’s a good reminder to always be careful. But you won’t die. They’re mostly worried about babies and old people.

Ah. Done. All taken care of. I guess I saved the…

Is grandma going to die?

Oh geez. This kid is good.

No. Grandma isn’t that old. She will be OK. Plus, Grandma knows to be careful and how to avoid getting sick. She’s tough. If Grandma Pearl was alive, she’s the type of old they mean.

For reference, Great Grandma Pearl died three years ago at the age of 99. I was really going for extremes examples here.

She nodded and we continued watching 1990s TV about a kid wearing a haunted mask. In this case, though, it was more than Netflix giving me goosebumps. I realized that in a time of crisis, I was seen as her voice of knowledge, reason, and comfort. It’s a lofty position to be expected to fill for a guy who, in his own head, is still the kid who wrote on his 8th grade chemistry test that the element “PB” stood for “pillow-banium”.

Yet, here I was, playing science expert. That moment was one of the most important things I’ve ever had to do as a Dad. Food prep, car rides, and bike lessons were all well and good, but it was this moment that would shape her understanding of crisis management for the rest of her life. I knew that. One day, she’ll be a mom and her kid will ask about the Coronavirus outbreak of 2020. She’ll remember this conversation on this day in this moment. I was saying words that would stick with her for the rest of her life.

And I had like three seconds to prepare them.

That’s what being a parent is. It’s about jumping into action without a second thought and making it work, even when you doubt your own abilities to do so. Had you presented this scenario to me as a hypothetical at some point before it happened, I would have put my hands on my face in a fit of anxious confusion. Someone would have screamed, “Take your hands off your face! That’s how you get it!” Then I would have screamed. Luckily, there was no advance notice. It happened in real time. When it did, I was Dad. I was Dad in the most daddliest way possible.

I firmly believe we’re all going to be alright. Even more importantly, though, I want my kids to believe that we’re all going to be alright. It’s my job to make them know that through my words and actions. I might not be able to hold the sky up as it’s falling, but I can be a source of ease for the people in my life who need it the most. Maybe you are too.

So, eat some ices, watch some Goosebumps, and tell your kids that everything is cool. Just, you know, make sure they wash their hands.