Emergencies have been on my mind a bit, lately: there have been the terrible floods across the country; there’s been the ongoing Middle East refugee crisis; I’ve had 3 near-misses on the roads with crazy, swerving, speeding drivers in the past 2 weeks; and we’ve been burning candles at home this past fortnight, which the minxes seem determined to either knock over or burn themselves on.
I was quite disparaging of the hysterical headlines about Storm Frank and it being allegedly ‘the storm of the century’, as one outlet gasped. Pah. Standard winter weather, but with a label on it! Then a friend of mine was flooded suddenly out of his home – his Facebook posts were heartbreaking. Today, too, I saw a photo on Facebook of the 105 year old Cambus o’ May bridge that spans the River Dee that we visited in September:
Now that is a LOT of water! Also today I saw photos of the village just the other side of the main dual carriageway from us: it’s under water. I think when disaster is close to you, whether in terms of physical distance or because it’s happening to someone you know, it makes you think and feel more.
So: whilst Family Trout is lucky enough to live somewhere where we’re unlikely to be flooded (though never say never), it made me think. The Troutlings are 5, 7 and 9. When was the last time we talked about emergencies? Over a year ago. What a wonderful opportunity! I thought.
Spoiler: this is probably how NOT to teach your kids Emergency Action drills.
I explained to the kids that we were going to agree a couple of Emergency Action drills that each family member would be able to carry out without thinking if the emergency ever happened. We all agreed that the time to think and talk about drills was now, when there was no risk (though that didn’t stop little voices getting more screechy and loud as they started to get keyed up…). I stressed that the chances of any of these emergencies ever, ever happening was really unlikely. They’d probably live to 250 without ever being in any real danger.
We talked about floods first because we’d been looking at pictures of people being airlifted out of our favourite campsite (! In hindsight, the kids probably didn’t perceive that moment as being a perfectly non-risk time to talk about possible future emergencies..). I explained that if there was a flood and we had to leave the house, we’d not have much time to think about what to take and what to leave. We discussed possible actions for each person (kids: grab one teddy, put on wellies and jacket and get out. Adult 1: get kids, grab Go Bag and get out to pre-agreed Rendezvous Point. Adult 2: spend maximum 2 minutes while kids are putting on wellies and jackets moving 2 pre-agreed family treasures to a top shelf, then lock up, get out and meet up). Easy. Straightforward. I got ready to talk about smart RV points.
“What about Killer-Cat?” interrupted little Midi.
“If we left her outside, she might not ever, ever come back!” wailed Maxi. “She might not find any food or shelter and she might die…!” Maxi gulped back tears and her chin wobbled.
Privately, I thought my beloved Killer-Cat would just have to take her chances. Publicly, I explained to the kids that we couldn’t take her with us. How would we feed her? Where would we let her go to the toilet? How would she feel stuck in a pet carrier cage for a week? In the face of 3 upset daughters, I quickly suggested that maybe my drill could include sweeping all the living room pot plants to the floor and quickly sticking some cat food, water and a cushion on the top shelf for the cat. The kids brightened up. Maxi stopped crying. I felt no guilt at all about lying.
Mini: “But what about all my teddies?” she sniffled “I couldn’t choose just one!” I explained that she could only grab one or none at all; she’d have no time to think about it. Now she was crying. That set off Maxi again.
“Ok, ok!” I yelled above the din of 2 crying minxes, “The adult staying behind for 2 minutes will put food out for the cat on the shelf and move all your teddies to the top bunk bed”. I mentally crossed my fingers. I knew that explaining to the kids that there’s no way I’d ever countenance risking my life to save their 10 million soft toys would just end in upset and no lessons would be learned. Then again, were they learning anything now, anyway? I was just frightening them.
I decided to change tack. Let’s go for an easy one: fire! I asked them how they’d know that there was a fire in the house (fire alarm, smoke, flames, a parent shouting, “Fire, fire, fire!”). I stated that their individual Emergency Actions were really easy: drop everything and get out the house. That’s it. Simple. Memorable. Achievable. Perfect.
“But what if we’re in the shower when the fire happens?” pondered Maxi. Doesn’t matter; get out, even if you’re naked. “But what if it’s snowing?” Doesn’t matter; get out, even if you’re walking through snow. “But what if it’s only a little fire?” Doesn’t matter; get out, better to walk back in sheepishly than not get out at all. “But what if there’s no-one at [Neighbour 1] or [Neighbour 2] or [Neighbour 3]?” Doesn’t matter; get out, get out, get out.
Ah me… Maxi refused to accept that when it comes to fire, there are no ifs and buts and maybes: you get out the house, run to the neighbour across the street and get them to dial 999. The harder she argued, searching for possible loopholes and exceptions, the more exasperated I got. No-one was learning anything, here!
I decided to change the focus. Let’s actually DO drills! Yay! We all got excited about that. Instead of setting off the fire alarm to emulate a fire (too noisy), we agreed that I would shout ‘Fire, Fire, Fire, Get Out [insert a minx’s name]’. That minx had to immediately drop everything and actually get out the house and we’d time them from me shouting to when The Boss could see them outside the house. The Boss and I wanted to make sure they could physically do everything: not pause to think, or fumble with the unexpectedly locked front door, or hesitate on the soaking wet doorstep. I wanted them to properly learn by actually doing.
Maxi was great: 12 seconds from command to splashing on the front path. She barely registered that the front door was locked! Little Mini was next. The instant that I cried the magic words “Fire, Fire, Fire, Get Out Mini!” she was off out her seat like a rocket, little arms pumping. Then she hit the locked door. She looked confused. She wasn’t allowed to unlock the door. She wasn’t sure how to unlock the door. Which way did the lock turn? She burst into tears. She wailed and shouted at the door. She screamed against her confusion. The Boss calmly coached her on the door lock until she was finally standing on the doorstep. 43 seconds. She got lots of hugs and encouragement and Well Done, Good Efforts from us both. Midi struggled with the door-lock too, finally getting out in 32 seconds. We gave them all a few minutes to calm down, talking about how we were going to do more drills over the next few weeks, then when they were ready we tried again. This time Mini managed an excellent 13 seconds and Midi an amazing 7 seconds.
Phew, that’s better – end on a success!
But of course, I didn’t leave it there, did I? Oh no. Another big mistake. Instead I let Maxi engage me in conversation about emergencies in general. Somehow we ended up talking about what we’d do if we saw someone drowning in the burn behind our housing estate. Mini the Innocent said: “I’d find a rope and throw it to them”. She looked confused when I asked where she’d get the rope from, and when was the last time she saw a rope by the burn? Midi The Big Hearted stated that she’d jump in to save them. She refused to believe me when I said that she would be better instead running to a house with a car outside to get help and dial 999; she wouldn’t be able to save a flailing, panicking person. So I decided to demonstrate (hint: BAD parental decision…)
“OK, Midi, come save me!” I said. “I’m in the water over here by the cupboard. ‘Ooo, save me, Midi, come get me!” and threw my arms around melodramatically.
Midi pretended to swim up to me. I mimicked a panicking swimmer and grabbed her, pushing her little shoulders down in a mime of trying to pull myself out of water. She burst into huge sobs.
Aw, pants. Stupid Mummy.
Over a long hug on the floor, she explained that I’d not hurt her, I’d just given her a big shock. So we talked about what panicking people do. I related for the umpteenth time all the different reactions of people (some trained, some untrained), in an aircraft evacuation due to fire that I’d been in many, many years ago. She laughed (hey, it’s the way I tell ’em…) but I think I finally got through to her that when you’re a kid, the very best thing you can do in any emergency at all is get yourself safe first, then get someone else to go help.
It’s hard for children, isn’t it? We drill them relentlessly from when they’re toddlers into not being selfish or self-centred, then we criticise them when their first instinct in a life-or-death situation might be to think of others before themselves.
Those of you with children: how have you taught your kids how to get medical help if you were incapacitated? How did you teach them fire drills? What do you keep in your Go Bag? Share your top tips and help me dig myself out of this Pit Of Emergency Doom I’ve dug!