Armageddon and the boy

Driving home, Kiddo#3 said, “That jet is crashing.”

I didn’t react at first because he sounded so calm, but when he said it the third time, I looked. “Oh,” I said, “it’s not actually crashing. That’s the vapor trail a jet leaves, and it looks like it’s pointing toward the ground, but it’s just the angle we’re looking at it. It’s actually moving away from us.”

I couldn’t figure out how to explain spherical geometry to a five year old while driving at highway speed, so I didn’t try.

The next day, he pointed out another trail that looked like a jet would crash into the ground.

The day after, he told me how a jet would crash into the ground and then a fireball would sweep over the whole earth and burn off all the people.

Actually, the first thing he said was, “When will there be no more people?” I said not for a while, and after he kept repeating the question (because, you know, Mom is stupid and sometimes she changes her answer, like, “Oh, I forgot, we’re all going to die on Thursday!”) he came out with the above. 

I’m never sure with the Philangelus kids; I said, “Why do you think that will happen?” No answer. “Who told you?”

I figured if he was having locutions, I needed to bathe him in holy water and get him to a priest. I’ve already told my oldest two how to test an angel if they ever see one. “You pray with it,” my daughter will tell you, if she remembers when you ask.

As it turned out, he’d seen it on TV.

Now I was horrified because I keep tight control over what they watch. For one thing, we don’t even have cable. Anything they watch comes on VHS or DVD. And the Backyardagins isn’t known for scenes of flaming death. I kept questioning, and as he answered, he became tearful.

His lip trembled: something big and fiery would slam into the earth and fire would come up and the sky would get dark and everything would die.

I said, “Do you mean like with the dinosaurs?”

Still atremble, he nodded.

Hooboy. Yes, we’d gotten a Discover Dinosaurs video out of the library. It never occurred to me they’d re-enact a comet hitting the earth. 

So I explained. There was ‘splainin and ‘splainin and ‘splainin. Explaining that a jet wasn’t big enough to do that. Something as big as the moon could do that, not a jet. That it hadn’t happened for hundreds of millions of years now and was unlikely to happen again. And so on and so forth.

I think it’s under control now, but I feel awful for the kid: watching the skies, tracking airplane trails, and waiting for death from above.


  1. ivyreisner

    Scientific American did a piece on that once. Basically they said, yes, it’s possible, but not for thousands of years, and possibly not before the sun burns itself out. Tell him, next time Jupiter is visible in the sky, that that’s our big brother planet, and it defends us from nasty rocks from space.

  2. philangelus

    And thus triggering four months of him running around the house throwing things at Kiddo4, then hurtling himself in front of Kiddo4 and shouting, “I’m JUPITER! JUPITER! I’m JUPITER!”

    But hey, it would definitely distract him from the fiery death thing.

  3. ivyreisner

    Well, the king of the Roman gods isn’t a bad job to aspire to. *ducking*

  4. Ken Rolph

    We’ve got ourselves into the strange state where a large part of parenting is teaching our children to deal with fear. This was not so when I was growing up in the 1950s. Paradoxically the world, on objective measures, is so much safer, but people feel so much more under threat.

    I think this has to do with the balance between first and second hand experiences. Today our consciousness is mostly formed by second hand experiences: things we hear about or see from afar. We are surrounded by a huge threatening unknown that was obscure to previous generations.

    A writer who addresses this issue is Frank Furedi. His books include Paranoid Parenting and Culture of Fear. I think this is an issue that needs to be consciously addressed by this generation of parents. In Australia this week people have been stockpiling food and water because someone has the flu in Mexico. And killing pigs. Over reaction is becoming our standard response. It may surprise us when our kids express in odd ways this culture of fear, when we ourselves may not be so embedded in it.

  5. philangelus

    I grew up in New York City during the cold war. I *expected* to die in a nuclear conflagration. It was one of those things I simply accepted, living in one of the world’s biggest bull’s-eyes.

    My kids for the most part expect to live very long lives and die of old age. That’s why I was surprised to hear Kiddo#3 talking about the consumption of the world in a giant fireball. When I was my daughter’s age, such a conversation would have been fairly typical lunch table conversation.

  6. Patient Husband's former officemate

    Perhaps the kiddo might be comforted by information about what people might do should an asteroid be headed our way:

  7. Capt Cardor

    My daughter was traumatized by a weird TV show. We were visiting a 95 year old neighbor at the time. He had on some “nature” show about alligators. We were not paying any attention to the show, but my 9 year old daughter was. She started crying and we turned to find out that the TV had shown an alligator finishing off his meal of a person in Florida who had gone into his pool only to be caught and eaten by the beast. Only the head was left. Our daughter cried for hours and had nightmares for days.

    Why was it necessary to be that graphic. Why was it on at 3:PM when kids could see it?

  8. Ken Rolph

    “Why was it necessary to be that graphic.”

    This is called gorno. The pornography of gore. Seems to be a flood of it at present. When everyday life is safe and antiseptic people seem to have a need for gore and horror. Kids are brought up now on all those CSI programs which show all this stuff in detail.

    We had one of those incidents in Sydney recently where a pedestrian was hit by a car. Passersby rushed up, took photographs with their phones, then went on their way. For some people the gore is just FX and CGI. I don’t know what happens if they actually get injured.

  9. philangelus

    My stepfather says people will be pushing each other out of the way to film the Second Coming of Christ.

    If *those* people got injured, btw, they’d want you to help, not film them. Priorities, you know. **eyeroll**