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This Is Not A Drill

While I was at Maddie’s school
yesterday for a volunteer meeting, the fire alarm started going
off. Startled, the teacher ushered us out of the room, cheerfully
saying something about a “surprise fire drill”. Three
minutes later we realized it wasn’t a drill when we heard
sirens and saw a fire truck pull up out front.

I scanned the parking lot for Maddie’s class, but she’d
apparently evacuated to the other side of the building and was
nowhere to be found. I told myself that she’d be fine: sure,
drills worry her to no end, but she’s bigger this year and
doing much better with her worries. Unable to do anything but worry
(yes, I see the irony), I waited out my sentence on the black

Thankfully, it was a very small fire
– the cafeteria oven caught fire or something. Thankfully, no
one was hurt and no real damage was done. We all went back in after
perhaps fifteen minutes total, and classes started back up. I saw
Maddie in the hallway, and could tell by the look of sheer relief
on her face that it hadn’t been the best time ever for her.
And while the teacher – who knows about Maddie’s fears
and is very compassionate – assured me that Maddie had been
very brave, I knew there would be fallout from the episode.

Sure enough, the fire was all Maddie could talk about after school.
First she said she wanted to raise money to buy a new oven –
her attempt to take control of the situation and fix it so it
couldn’t loom large over her. Then she began talking about
her feelings: how she’d had to fight hard not to cry –
and didn’t always win that battle; how the teacher had seen
her struggle and brought Maddie to stand up by her; how she worried
the rest of the day.

Then came the heart of the matter. “Mommy, I just don’t
want to go to school tomorrow,” she said, and I could see how
hard this was to admit because she knew what my reply would be.

“Why not, kiddo?” I asked.

“I’m afraid there’s going to be another fire
tomorrow. I am just so worried about it, I need a little space to
come to terms with today’s fire before going back.”
(Yes, she really did talk like this.)

We spent the rest of the day talking about the fire. We
role-played, with me being the kid and her being the parent. She
told EVERY person she saw about the fire. We read distracting
books, and prayed a lot. None of these things work when Maddie
starts to wind herself up, and sure enough, she was up and down the
stairs half a dozen times in the first twenty minutes after bed

How do I help my girl process her fears and move on? It’s not
that she’s not brave – Maddie’s one of the
bravest people I know, precisely because she DOES have these fears
and yet incredibly, still manages to function somehow. But having
to live with that level of anxiety and stress must wear a
six-year-old down, you know?

I don’t have any answers on this. She’s going to have
to learn how to cope with things that come up, I know, and
she’s doing better every day. But on the other hand,
she’s my kid, dang it, and I’m sick of throwing her in
nausea-inducing situations and saying it’s for her own good.
There has to be a better way to help her cope, or get stronger, or



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