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Teaching Children What to do in an Emergency

When I was about ten years old, I read a book that profoundly impacted my young life. I don’t remember its name or its author. I don’t even really remember its plot. But I remember what it taught me.

This is the story as I recall it.

Two teenagers (one boy, one girl) have a special game they play with their seven-year-old sister: the “What do you do if…” game. At random times, one of them asks, “What do you do if there’s a fire?” Or, “What do you do if you’re shopping with Mommy and you get lost?” Or, “What do you do if Mommy’s in the shower and there’s a knock on the door?”

The teens think they’re super-clever to have come up with the game to teach their beloved little sister how to look after herself. The girl loves being praised for knowing the right answers. And their mother hates the game with a vengeance. She gets angry if she overhears them playing it, saying the teens are scaring their sister. So, as you’d expect, they play it in secret.

And then the girl is kidnapped.

I only vaguely remember what happened next. I have vague memories of them setting up tables in their garage and enlisting the neighbours to put out posters, of the mother having a breakdown, and of the teenagers holding it together and being the calm in the storm. I definitely remember the police detective in charge of the case reciting a lot of figures about how unlikely it was they’d ever see the girl come home alive.

But, unsurprisingly, in this case the stats were wrong. They cracked the case (or the bad guys lost their nerve) and the girl was reunited with her family. There was much celebration. And then the teenagers added a new question to their game: “What do you do if someone you don’t know grabs you?” And this time, the mother didn’t mind.

(I think the subtext here is that if the girl knew what to do, she wouldn’t have been kidnapped. But I could be wrong.)

I learned a number of things from this middle-grade book:

  1. I could be kidnapped at any moment.
  2. If I was kidnapped, I would probably not make it home alive.
  3. Knowing what to do in an emergency is a Good Thing.

Whether the author intended it that way or not, I learned more about what to do in various emergency situations from that book than I did from any other source. And I also made a commitment to myself that one day, when I was a grown-up, I wouldn’t be like the mother from the book. I’d teach my children what to do if there was an emergency. (Because, you know, otherwise they’d get kidnapped. Obviously.)

When Big Brother was born, the memory of this book drifted back into my conscious mind at about the same time as I found myself lying in a hospital bed watching an SUV marathon during the infamous Third Day Blues. (Note: New parents who wish to retain any measure of sanity should avoid SUV at all costs.) In that moment, with my newborn in my arms and hormone-induced tears on my face, I re-committed to my pledge.

I’d like to say that I’ve kept it. And, for the most part, I have. But I’ve not yet found a way to talk to Big Brother about the possibility of kidnapping. He’s five years old. He still thinks people are inherently good and safe and friendly. (All except Bad Guys and Villains, but there’s always a Superhero or Fearless Knight around to defeat them.) And I’m just not quite ready to relieve him of that idea. Not yet.

But we do talk about other emergencies. And every few weeks, we practice what he would do in the case of my absolute worst fear.

“What do you do if Mummy falls over and hurts herself and you can’t wake her up?”

Because, you see, at this stage he’s always either with me, my husband, or in his classroom at school. In every other emergency situation, there would be an adult to assist him. But what if there wasn’t…

“I can call Daddy on button A. Or Nana on button B. Or the amber-lance.”

“And what’s the phone number for the ambulance?”

“0. 0. 0.”

“Very good. And what do you tell them?”

“My Mummy fell over and hurt herself, and she won’t wake up.”

Then we practice his name, his age, his address, and anything else that seems relevant. And I feel a bit more relaxed.

When did/will you teach your children what to do in case of emergency?

Have you ever made parenting decisions based on books you read as a child? (Just me, then?)

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Share Your Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Last week, Howlin’ Mad Heather of Prawn and Quartered had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. She blogged about it and posed the question:

Have you had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day? Did anything good come out of it?

I really wanted to answer the question, but I had a problem. Which day to choose?

How about the day when I was 19 and I was running late to work on a Sunday morning, only to discover when I got there that I wasn’t wearing any shoes? 

No, not particularly terrible.

How about the day I parked my car at the train station on the way to work, and had to walk through near-torrential rain to catch the train? My heels were apparently not the best choice of footwear and I slipped, landing in a six-inch deep puddle and splashing my work clothes with mud and water. By the time I made it to work, they’d mostly dried — although they were wrinkled and dirty and looked like I’d slept in a dumpster. Adding to that effect, the styling wax in my hair had melted and re-set, making it look like I was wearing a badly formed helmet. I barely made it through the day without crying (mainly by hiding from people), then got back to my car to find I’d left my headlights on and had a flat battery.

No, not horrible enough.

How about the day I had a placental abruption when my first son was born, or when I developed pre-eclempsia when my second son was born?

No, while the childbirth experiences weren’t good, my beautiful boys were worth it.

How about the day when Little Brother was six weeks old and I arranged to meet a friend at a park? With two children whingeing in the back seat, I failed my “park the car safely” test and reversed into a brand new SUV, doing a combined total of $7.5K damage to our cars and freaking out both myself and the boys. Then, in an effort to make up the lost time it took to leave a note for the other driver, I took a short-cut down the side of a grassy hill. Sadly, my pram wasn’t designed for cross-country expeditions. It flipped upside down, dragging me with it. While I struggled desperately to right the pram and hope Little Brother was secured by his safety harness, I was dragged five metres down the hill until the slope plateaued. I was left with bruises, abrasions, a terrified six-week old and a seriously freaked out three-year old.

That was a very bad day.

But not very bad enough.

No, my terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day happened the week after that. Little Brother was 7 weeks old and Big Brother was 3 years and 10 months.

I was feeling somewhat reluctant to go anywhere after my car accident and falling-down-the-hill experience, and we’d spent a couple of weeks at home. Finally, it was all too much. I put Little Brother in the dreaded pram, packed some formula and bottles (I was sadly unable to breastfeed), and went for a walk.

We went down the road to a walking track near the river, and then along the track. We wound our way over a bridge, past a soccer field, under a railway track, and to a little playground that I’d seen once before. I had no idea how to reach it by road, but the walk through the bush was really quite revitalising.

As soon as we got there, Little Brother woke up hungry. I had to prepare a bottle for him. “Wait just a minute,” I said to Big Brother. “I’ll get Little Brother sorted, then I’ll come help you on the climbing frame.” Then I (stupidly) turned my back to grab the formula and water out of the pram.

By the time I turned back, Big Brother had started climbing by himself. He was scaling a horizontal ladder of curved metal rungs that were far too far apart for his little legs.

His feet slipped off a rung and time slowed down. His arms pinwheeled in the air as he fell between the rungs. As he fell, he leaned forward. His chin slammed into the rung in front of him. His head shot backwards. Then he landed on his feet, his eyes rolling madly.

He looked at me. I looked at him. I could barely breathe. “Mummy?” he said in a weak voice. He took two steps towards me and then his knees gave out and he collapsed.

Then, like in a bad action flick, the cut under his chin that had been invisible until that moment opened and blood gushed out.

We were lucky — he didn’t lose consciousness. This was obvious because he started to shriek in pain and shock and fear as blood gushed from the wound. I picked him up and sat him on my lap, trying to calm him while simultaneously figure out how bad it was. I grabbed a cloth to press against the cut, but he fought my every attempt to get near it.

Tears flowed, blood flowed, and I suddenly realised that not all the screams were coming from Big Brother. In my panic, I’d completely forgotten that I had a second child who was still lying in his pram, crying for food.  

What could I do? I couldn’t put Big Brother down — he was screaming like a banshee and had a serious gash under his chin that probably needed stitches. But if I didn’t pick Little Brother up, he was going to keep screaming. I couldn’t even make up a bottle properly, because I needed two hands to do that. Plus, I didn’t have a car handy and home was a 3km walk away. The only thing I had was a phone.

I called my husband and calmly explained the situation to him.

Who am I kidding? I was near hysterical at this point. My voice was shaking so much I’m surprised he understood anything I said. I was struggling not to devolve into tears because that would only make the children worse. Somehow, my wonderful husband understood me.

“Call an ambulance,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s not a life threatening injury, they’ll always come for children. I’m leaving work right now. I’ll call you when I’m nearly home.”

So I called the ambulance. Except…

Except I had no idea where I was. I was forced to explain, in a shaky, near-hysterical voice, “I’m in a park. I don’t know where it is, and I can’t go and check because I’ve got two children with me and they’re both crying and I can’t move, but there’s a car park so there must be a road and I followed a path from my home, and I just really, really, really need an ambulance, like, right now.”

And you know what? She Google Mapped it. She talked me through the path I must have taken, listened to my descriptions, and worked out the name of the park. Then she sent an ambulance.

The moment the ambulance arrived, Big Brother was fascinated. Then the paramedics wanted to look at his chin and he screamed like a banshee. He had to be physically restrained so they could look at the wound and stick a temporary plaster on it. One of the paramedics picked up Little Brother and calmed him down, the other folded the pram and loaded it into the ambulance, and they asked which hospital I wanted to go to.

“I can’t go to hospital,” I said.

Because I couldn’t. I’d only brought enough formula to feed Little Brother once. If we went to the hospital, we’d be there for hours. (Just one reason I really wish I’d been able to breastfeed!) So the paramedics loaded us into the ambulance and drove us home. They checked everyone’s blood pressure (mine was a little high!), told Big Brother jokes, and then unloaded us and told me to be careful driving.

My husband was home. I handed a crying Little Brother to him, packed Big Brother in the car, and off we went to the hospital.

There was more physical restraining of Big Brother while the doctor glued up the wound (thank goodness it didn’t need stitches!) and we caught a taxi home. Big Brother fell asleep against me in the car, and I called my Mum. Because that’s just what you do.

All in all, it was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

Now it’s your turn. Tell me about your terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

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