Every day it seems as if the world grows more and more unpredictable and dangerous — especially if you are a parent. With near constant acts of terror in Europe, and earthquakes and hurricanes destroying people’s lives, it is easy to worry nonstop about the safety of our children. But is there something bigger that we can learn from these terrifying experiences?
Jenny Anderson had just dropped her children off at school in London when a bomb exploded in a subway a block away. Suddenly chaos ensued, and her children were on lock-down. For seven hours she was unable to get to them, while rumors of other terrorist activity in the area ran rampant. Terrified for her children’s lives, she began to think about the smaller things. In a recent essay for Quartz, she wrote:
Friday was also my younger daughter’s seventh birthday. She had asked for a Barbie house, and we were reluctant. I hate Barbie and everything she and her ridiculous proportions embody. I have read Peggy Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter. I know there is a princess-Barbie industrial complex that perpetuates deeply offensive and objectifying stereotypes.
I also know I loved Barbie as a kid and I grew up to be a writer, athlete, and feminist. I spent days on end holed up in my parents’ basement inventing many weird worlds for Barbie to live in. Sometimes friends joined me—my neighbor had the convertible, and Ken—but most of the time it was just me. I also know my daughter loves to invent things and build things, and that she loves spending time in her many imaginary worlds.
Parenting in the information age can be overwhelming. There is a right way to praise your children and a proper way to support them in sports. There are questions that encourage scientific inquiry and games that foster math skills. The science of learning teaches us about the importance of working memory and the science of expertise shows us how to make our kids an expert at anything. And that’s before we get to nutrition. Or technology.
In crises, I tend to be calm. It’s the stupid to-buy-the-Barbie or not-to-buy-the-Barbie decisions that make me crazy. And yet, as I walked away from my kids’ school on Friday, I was overcome by a gut-wrenching fear that I might not see my girls again. Everyone said they are safer with the police but it felt like they would only be safe with me. Delusional, perhaps, but primal. I wanted my girls back.
Being put in the scariest position that a parent could ever imagine allowed Anderson some perspective. At the end of the day, it probably did not matter whether her daughter had a Barbie or not. What mattered most was that she was alive and well. As parents, we want what is best for our kids, and it is easy to get tangled in trivial details. But sometimes it takes a rude awakening to realize that those things don’t matter so much in the end.
In case you’re wondering, Anderson did end up getting her daughter that Barbie. And although she played with it, she ended the night by inventing “penguin shoes” and reading books in bed. Barbie did not destroy her after all.