When the littles first started school in Canada, there was an incident at their school that stayed with me for a long time. It started out as a normal day, save for the fact that Woo was home sick. I took him to the grocery store to pick up some medicine, and on the way home we drove by the school. In front of it were a dozen police cars and several firetrucks. Terrified I drove through our neighbourhood to the emergency pick up location, as I knew Goose was likely there and scared.

As I walked from my car, I passed two moms that I knew from the yard. The look on my face showed my terror, and they reassured me that everything was OK. I quickly found Goose’s class. Her teacher was sitting with three crying children on her lap, trying to calm them all, when she was really not calm herself. I grabbed Goose and headed home. Later that day we learned that a man had entered the school with a “gun”, pulled the fire alarm, and locked himself in the principal’s office. No one was harmed and the gun actually a toy. It seemed that this man really only wanted help for himself, and his was an attempt to access it.

Life slowly returned to normal in the school, but every time I heard sirens in the neighbourhood, my heart rate increased and I thought about the littles. My mind always went to the school, and if the sirens meant that they weren’t safe. I reacted like this for a long long time, and I know other parents from the school did as well.

The week after we moved to California, there was a wildfire. We found out about it because we heard many, many sirens. They went on for 10 to 15 minutes, going past our house to the south. Realizing something was up, I looked out the back windows and saw the smoke over the mountains that are behind us. I didn’t know how big the fire was or how close it was to us but the news that I found on Twitter indicated that it was big and growing fast. I let the littles know about the fire, and I told them they should be prepared to go if we had to. The fire wasn’t very close, but I’ve had friends have had to evacuate from wildfires, and they never got a lot of notice. The fire burned for a couple weeks, and never really threatened our house, but we did have smoky air and ash falling on our house for several days.

After that, anytime we heard a siren in the neighbourhood the littles would ask if I thought that was a car accident or if it was because of the bad drivers here that we were hearing sirens. I thought it was a strange reaction and downplayed the sirens, reminding them that emergency services respond when 911 is called, that sirens don’t always mean that there’s been an accident or someone is been hurt, or that it’s a fire. It wasn’t until we had a repeat of the fire response; many, many sirens, all going through the neighbourhood. ┬áIt was another fire, and this time when we could see from our house. As soon as the littles discovered the flames, they packed up everything precious that they own. It wasn’t a bad response given that we could see the fire, but the frantic way they went about it told me that they were really afraid.

That fire was extinguished quickly. It was a grass fire that didn’t get very big, and only destroyed an empty shed. It was just our misfortune that we could see it from our house. Since that fire, they have gone back to asking about the cause of the periodic sirens that we hear, and I have realized that they ask and attribute the sirens to other causes because they need to know that it’s not a fire. I know how the sirens can be triggering for them, and that in time they’ll get over this fear. Until then I’ll continue to reassure them that not all sirens mean emergencies and that not all emergencies are going to affect us. Hopefully it will help them to be a little less afraid.

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