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:
- I could be kidnapped at any moment.
- If I was kidnapped, I would probably not make it home alive.
- 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?)