Lava Tsunamis

published in the Gazette March 10, 2002


            "Look at my picture, Mom!"

I'Ve stopped to get my 4-year old son Eli from preschool and he's dancing around in front of me holding up a large piece of paper with wild orange and yellow swoops painted on it.  I take the picture from him and read the note that someone has written on it—obviously Eli's story about the picture.

"A big tsunami of lava and lava springs on the surface."

Eli nods.

"Wow, a lava tsunami," I exclaim.

"And it went whoosh, and the lava went all over!"  Eli adds.

"Hmm," I say, glancing at the teacher.  "Someone’s pretty smart to know how to spell tsunami."

Actually, it’s no surprise that someone who works with 4-year-olds knows what a tsunami is and how to spell it.  Sometime during my years of momming, I’ve learned know how to spell tsunami.  I also know how to spell hurricane, earthquake, and volcano, and I know the difference between an effusive eruption and a pyroclastic eruption.  I haven't experienced any of those disasters except through the pages of books my children pick out from the library. 

"When we finish with Horrifying Hurricanes we can get out Terrifying Tornadoes or Fearsome Floods," my 7-year old son Robbie informed me one night, pointing to the back of the hurricane book where others from the disastrous series are advertised.

Sometimes I think it’s just a tad creepy that my kids are so fascinated with destructive acts of nature.  I mean, what is the deal here?  Do they secretly want to destroy entire villages with molten rock?  Sweep away frame houses on angry waves?  Are my boys psychopaths-to-be?

            After the September 11th terrorist attacks, many people wanted to know how my children were faring—whether they were having nightmares, asking questions, worried that I was going to travel by plane.  There wasn't much to report.  My disaster-loving boys did not become fascinated with large jets crashing into public buildings.  This may be partially because, like many parents of small children, my husband and I kept the TV and radio news turned off during that period. 

Mostly, my kids weren't that interested because of the bad guys.  Unlike tornadoes, hurricanes, or lava tsunamis, the September 11th disaster had bad guys.   Now, there's nothing inherently wrong with bad guys—or "baggies," as Eli calls them.  In fact, they are quite useful when you need someone to blame, as when answering a question like "who tracked all this dirt into the house?"  "The baggies did it."

The bad guys did it.  That's just it.  There are September 11th bad guys who did something horrible, and we will punish them.  End of story. 

            On the other hand, when you're hit by a lava tsunami or another natural disaster, you have no baggies to blame or punish.  Hurricanes and tornadoes just happen—like when your sunflowers don't sprout, or your clay turkey explodes in the kiln at school, or your grandpa gets cancer.  Nobody did those things to you.  You didn’t deserve (or not deserve) them.  It might help to know what you're dealing with—to read and study about those disasters—even when they are horrifying, terrifying, or fearsome.  But mostly, you just have to watch and wait and get a hug from your mom or dad if you feel sad.

            Maybe my children's fascination with natural disasters is a way of trying out disaster in general.  If you can read about hurricanes, draw pictures of volcano eruptions, and occasionally be a volcano now and then, you can gain some control over your feelings about an often out-of-control world.  Then, when you're faced with a lava tsunami in your personal life, you’ll know it's time to snuggle close to your family, wait, and be ready to dig out when the coast is clear.


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