My uncle’s mother, Mrs. Ward, had a storm shelter. And I snuck into it every chance I got. Few others had one, so a storm shelter was absolutely fascinating to me.
At least, a storm shelter is what they told all of the kids it was. It doubled as a storm shelter, but it was actually a bomb shelter.
In mid-20th Century America, most kids were kept in the dark about a lot of things, including potential thermonuclear war.
When I was growing up in Ashdown, Arkansas, I thought little of a bomb shelter because adults talked little of the world’s real dangers and risks.
You could say this wasn’t a good idea because even children deserve the truth. But, I’ve come to the conclusion that kids have enough baggage of their own, just trying to figure out how to be who they are. Failing to tell them about every potential problem or illness might actually be doing them a favor.
Kids are smart. The reality of all the bad things will find its way into their understanding soon enough.
Today, adults talk freely about illnesses around children. When I was a kid, that wasn’t so.
The word cancer was whispered back then. Heart problems were minimized. And the reason was simple. Little could be done for a diagnosis of either.
It’s easy to discuss something with a child when you have a good answer to their inevitable question: “What’s going to happen?”
Half a century ago, when someone my family knew had a cancer diagnosis, the person wasn’t minimized, but their diagnosis was. That was because it was almost certainly a death sentence.
The same was true then of heart disease.
In 1978, my grandfather died of the very same heart problem that I would have 37 years later. The difference was advancements in treatment and technology.
He had been told he had a heart problem, but there was nothing that could be done. He’d need to slow down and limit what he did.
Basically, stop living life.
He chose to keep living until his time was up. He also chose to not tell the grandchildren. So, his death took us completely by surprise.
When I had the same issue, I notified my kids, went into the hospital, and in an hour they were rolling me out to the car to go home.
Again, solutions make problems easier to discuss.
Back to the storm shelter. If I’m honest, we kids weren’t too bright. We’d all been through enough southern spring weather that we should’ve realized we didn’t need 100 cans of pork and beans, a port-a-potty, 20 rolls of Charmin, and a case of Deet for the duration of a tornado or a storm.
But you trust the adults to know what they’re doing. If that’s what’s on the shelf downstairs in that small, dank, spider-infested place, then that’s obviously all you’ll need.
Then, we had both tornado drills and bomb drills in school. The latter should’ve helped us realize that the Cold War wasn’t going well.
And how naive were we to honestly believe that curling into a ball under our desk was going to provide any practical protection?
Just like calling it a storm shelter instead of a bomb shelter, the adults were smart enough to know that giving us something to do during an actual crisis would at least make us feel as if we had some control.
By the time I had kids, things were looking up. Vietnam was over, The Berlin Wall fell, Russia and the US began to de-escalate with all the bombs.
But now, things seem to be going the wrong way, again. Bomb shelter sales are on the rise. We’ve seen product shortages. People are afraid.
With social media and the Internet, we no longer live in a Beaver Cleaver world. Kids know what’s happening. Honesty is not only the best policy, it’s now the only policy.
Kids need us to be honest with them. Honest about medical diagnosis, storms, war, pandemics, and anything else that arises.
There’s very little comfort right now. True comfort only comes from a relationship with God. Above all, let’s make sure that we’re honest with the kids about that.