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Wildfire Season for Moms

October 28, 2019

We all need to feel safe. As mothers, the safety and health of our children is priority. This includes mental health. It’s normal to worry.

Some say worry is the work of motherhood.

We might also feel the pressure to keep the worry to ourselves so as not to upset our children. Some moms will feel guilty about possibly worrying their children indirectly or through the felt sense since all know that children (even babies) are great perceivers but poor interpreters.

Current events may even trigger existential concerns about related issues like climate change, clean energy, our dependence on broken systems, the corruption of big business and national politics.

It’s only natural to feel anxious. Events like these cause our survival instincts to kick in.

At least one large wildfire is raging within a couple hours driving distance and as we learned last year containment is a process that can take a couple weeks — despite constant and heroic efforts from firefighters (bless them) and others diligently showing up to help. We know folks personally who have been evacuated from their homes. Large swathes of neighbors in the Bay Area have been without power or may still be. 

The result of unpredictable weather patterns and high winds is ever changing air quality and conditions that help or worsen the situation. It’s been especially difficult to track this year as electricity and cell phone service has been interrupted and the usual response systems are either down or delayed in reporting. 

Local news services have been less helpful with a dearth of quality information and over-abundance of scary, sensationalized headlines rather than proposals of solutions. Social media is running sob stories, disturbing (yet eerily beautiful) footage that we would not want our children to see lest it cause nightmares, angry rants and finger-pointing about who and what is to blame among the updates of how people are doing and where they have relocated to. 

Now, let’s just pause for a moment and take a breath. Then another. 

If it’s helpful place your hand gently on your heart or your cheek or your belly. As you slow down for a few seconds, bring some compassion to yourself and the situation.

You might also sense what’s happening inside your body, noting any sensations, the shape or form your body is in and where it is making contact with gravity or furniture or the ground.

Letting go of any self-judgments or the need to change anything, just noticing with a kind, loving awareness. 

You can acknowledge that this is hard. And it’s real.

And yet…

If you are reading this, everything is okay in this moment. You are safe and your child is safe/children are safe.

As I type these words, the sky is blue, birds flit around outside the window, a breeze ruffles the leaves of trees, mail is being delivered and my retired librarian neighbor bustles around her back studio cleaning and crafting. Schools are open, people are on their morning commutes and the internet is functioning. Through the bank app, I can see that all the bills are still going through (darn!). Life is happening. Everything around me is functioning. 

The air quality reads green. It’s predicted to change later and may get worse (or not). But read again, right now it’s green. And we get to choose if we want to live in the red while it’s green. When and if it turns yellow, orange or red, we can then choose how to take action.

Of course there are the people who go jogging in the red and others who show up to perform outdoor maintenance despite risk to themselves in all conditions. There are people struggling, who have been evacuated or lost homes, businesses and who are in danger. There are pets who have been left behind and good people trying to reunite them. 

From the people I’ve spoken with lately, there’s an ambivalence between accepting extreme fire season as the new normal that we learn to live with and a strong desire to flee, between wanting to take care of their own and wanting to do more from a deep concern for others, between gratitude for their privilege and good fortune while others are affected and a sense of outrage, injustice and powerlessness.

Overall, few are immune to the stress response that says fight, flight or freeze.

There are things to be done, local and national or global, short-term and long-term, as individuals and communities. There will be people and animals to help, homes and businesses to rebuild, lands to restore, infrastructure to strenthen and systems to change. If we don’t heed these events as a wake up call, we are missing a big opportunity and the results may be devastating.

And yet…

We can recognize all the things that are working right now. We can prepare to be one step ahead. We can have something in place in case things change for the worse, a contingency plan — just enough so we can create some peace of mind. 

For my family, it’s meant packing our to-go bags, communicating with family several hours away about coming to visit if we need to leave and keeping the gas tank full in our car. I leave out the headlamps when we go to sleep and don’t turn my phone off as I usually do.

I’ve signed up for alerts and check the news and apps selectively for updates asking myself each time if I expect to learn anything that would change my actions (ie whether to send my child to school). 

We’re also spending most of our time inside even if the air quality levels say yellow and we run the air filter. We’ve agreed that if the smoke stays in the red and we can’t run the filter due to a power outage, it goes into the maroon or purple zone of if there is even the suggestion of evacuation to nearby fire danger, we will leave. 

These are difficult conversations to have and decisions to make but there’s comfort from the clarification. It allows space to be present with what is here now. Time inside has also meant being more creative and needing to work on patience with my kiddo. I let him stay home from school a little longer than was necessary which meant less time for myself and getting things done. 

On the flip side, the opportunity to slow down, stop business as usual, be together and indulge in watching a few more movies has been quite grounding and sweet. While I would never wish the power being turned off or the consequences it has had for people, in particular the elderly, disabled and children who are dependent on it for well-being, I noticed many more stars in the night sky and a mom that I know felt a sense of peace in the absence of normal distractions and from reading with her family by lantern.

What contingency plan or small steps need to be done today so you can find more ease?  

What are some simple ways to soothe yourself? What can you let go of to avoid triggers?

Can you find the side benefit or opportunity within these unplanned for or uncomfortable events?

What’s working or okay in this moment? What happens when you shift your attention towards all the things that are going well or functioning normally?

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