There is nothing better than the Australian Summer. Once the school holidays kick in, there is usually a blur of BBQ’s, drinks with friends, trips to the beach (if you are lucky to live close enough), and the joyful sound of the revolving door or your child’s friends in and out of your front door. That’s how it should be. However, this Summer was covered by an ominous dark cloud. Smoke from fires that you weren’t close enough to see hung thick in the air. The smell would hit you as soon as you opened the front door.
The nightly news and everyone’s Facebook feeds were filled with the stories of our fellow countrymen fleeing for their lives away from flames taller than their houses. Stories of those who stayed to fight, of animals fighting their natural instincts to approach humans for help. The heart-sinking feeling every time you hear that someone didn’t make it out or that the firefighters trying to help were injured or killed. Discussing evacuation bags and fire safety plans with friends with the frequency that you would usually discuss your social life.
As we live near the water, part of my plan has always been to head to the water where we would be safe. Until this fire season, that seemed like a foolproof plan but then I saw so many photos like this one – a friend of a friend who was evacuated to the beach at Batemans Bay.
Despite being near the water, which would make them safe from the flames, the air quality was so bad he was holding a wet towel over the face of his 5-year-old son to prevent him breathing in toxic smoke.
It’s difficult enough for an adult to process what is happening. I can only imagine it is much scarier for the little people in your life.
The tiny humans that hear everything even when you don’t think they are listening. The ones who pick up on how you're feeling like mini physiatrists. It’s part of the natural survival instinct – when the large human in charge of them is scared, they know to be scared.
Even once you know all this, how do you have an age-appropriate conversation? It’s going to be different for every kid. Even two kids of identical ages are going to process things in different ways. There is a fine line between giving them useful information and loading them up with things they can’t do anything about.
I tried to do a little bit of research and worked out a plan that I thought would work for my child.
We had an honest but age-appropriate conversation about what was happening. I reassured her that we are not currently in danger, and that there are good and brave people who are helping those who are (in danger).
I talk to her a lot about ways that we can help: being there for friends who are in the fire zone, donating money and supplies to people who need it and mostly keeping to our normal routine as much as we can. Kids need to feel like even if there is craziness going on around them, that you have things under control. This worked for us.
I hope I never have to come up with a strategy if we are ever in the path of a fire, as for those who are, the solution is much more complicated.
I still love the Australian Summer, and I’m much kinder to mother nature now that I have been reminded that she is tougher than I am.