THE SMELL OF SMOKE

We live in the western U.S. and in late summer it is not uncommon for wild fires to break out when trees and grass get really dry. There have been times when the night sky glowed orange red and ash fell like snow.

Still, we have been lucky – we experience the inconvenience of fires, smoke and ash, and have not been otherwise seriously impacted by them.

There was a day when I took the Navigator on a play date with one of his best friends. When we left the play date, across the valley was a massive plume of smoke. It was such a deep-reddish brown I knew it was a relatively recent burn. There were layers of white that told me ash was coming with the smoke. It took less than 15 minutes for it to cross the valley and then we were surrounded in a brown haze.

The Navigator was nervous about it, even though I walked him through a detailed explanation of why we were unlikely to be in any danger from wildfire. I can’t say that I blame him. The smokey smell gives me a headache and I had closed up the house as tight as possible to keep it out. The brown in the air made the setting sun go red, which was also unsettling. I thought that he might have to miss recess at school because the kids stay inside when there is too much smoke in the air.

My concerns were unwarranted, however. I didn’t need to worry about recess because he refused to go to school.

Suddenly he was crying, telling me that he hated leaving the house because he was afraid he would never come back. He knew intellectually that he would come home, but his fears and emotions blocked him from believing it. It was heartbreaking.

I see anxiety taking up residence within the Navigator more and more as he gets older. Every gain in knowledge and experience seems to be accompanied by new worries and concerns.

I remain hopeful that he will be empowered by what he learns. But just in case, I find myself working hard to douse his fears, setting up a fireline when I know a fear could be sparked, and not feeling defeated when I smell smoke.