Lava, Pompeii, and the Whole Crazy Thing

Build and Erupt Volcano Kit. $13.95 at scientificsonline. Safer than videos.

I cleverly had a niece and nephew (twins) five years before I had Midgets of my own. I arranged things this way so I could make all the parenting mistakes on someone else’s children.

You will surmise, however, from the comment my sister left to yesterday’s post about The Great Spanish YouTube Disaster, that my past mistakes were simply the starter course for the main ones later on.

This is what she wrote: “Did you not learn your lesson after helping your four and a half year old nephew find a video showing volcano footage which traumatized him for the next few years and caused him to want to evacuate our condo at the foot of Mt. Haleakala asap???!!! He survived. Mbot and Gbot will survive too ;0)”

Now, I could claim that she’s been addled by reading and rereading all those old National Geographics (see Saving the World, One Stick of Secret at a Time): maybe she just has volcanoes on the brain. But Tom Waits admitted a few days ago on NPR’s Fresh Air that he hoards them too, and he seems just fine. And besides, it would be a deliberate lie, and I like to keep the lies in this blog to indeliberate ones. And so I will relate the short, sad story. As Husbot likes to quote someone whose name I can’t conjure at the moment, “Either be a wonderful example or a horrible reminder.” So let this brief and fiery tale stand as a horrible reminder. I just wish that I’d remembered it.

There we were, vacationing on the balmy shores of Maui, my mother, The Guru, my sister and her twins, Sbot and Cbot. The twins were actually 2 1/2, not 4 1/2. And Sbot was endlessly curious about volcanoes. “Bolcanoes,” I believe, was the word he used. That should have been a sign: beware of that which you cannot yet pronounce.

I had a brilliant idea. Videos! On the computer! Which I’d conveniently set up on the dining table. Cbot sat on one side of me. Sbot sat on the other. I sat between them, feeling clever and powerful. With a few clicks, I had six or more thumbnails to choose from, two- to three-minute video clips of erupting volcanoes. I peered at them closely, chose one and hit “play.”

A great puff of smoke. A great wall of boiling red magma. Huts in the foreground. Black smoke rising off fire that toppled palm trees as it advanced toward the huts.

I can't find any bad magma hut pictures. But this is scary enough. Magma on the island of Hawaii, 1984 (NOT Maui, 2006). Photo by JD Griggs.

On either side of me, Sbot and Cbot’s eyes were round as lava tubes. I frantically pawed for the “stop” key, then scurried to get the frozen image off the screen.

Cbot was unconcerned. She is more of a pragmatist than the highly sensitive empath Sbot, who was asking, “Why  is it getting the town? Is the lava going to come over our condo?”

No, I assured him. No, no, no. Here is a better video, I said, searching for  something that looked more benign.

But really, are volcanoes ever benign? I figured maybe they were benign enough if they are deep in the ocean. I found a clip of an underwater volcano and rolled it with a sigh of relief.

“But where’s the fire?” asked Sbot with disappointment, watching the air bubbles rise through the darkness, completely unimpressed.

I tried again. Found a clip. Hit play. There was an eruption, excellent. There was….oh, screaming townspeople, running from a wall of ash. Where is that “stop” key when you need it?

Sbot wanted to leave Maui immediately. He wanted our condo to be on the other side of the pool, so that the pool was between us and Haleakala, looming, dormant as it had been since the seventeenth century, in the distance. (“Can a pool stop lava?””Yes (lie), but we don’t have to worry.”)

Their mother took it remarkably in stride, as she admirably does most things. It was several days before Sbot expressed interest in bolcanoes again, but by then, my teaching privileges had been, understandably, revoked.

Six months later, back home in Idaho, their father took the twins on a picnic to Craters of the Moon National Monument. A special treat, just him and the kids. Sbot got one look at the lava-strewn landscape and wanted to go home.

Craters of the Moon National Monument, central Idaho. It is old. It is safe. Trust me. (www.hiker

A year later, The Guru helped them make a version of the Build and Erupt Volcano. It’s simple: You build a cone out of instant paper mache mix, let it dry, and paint it volcanoishly. Then you put a bowl of baking soda in the hollow cylinder you’ve left at the center. You pour in vinegar. Voila: instant eruption. Steam, bubbles, the whole crazy thing.

It was a great hit.

So my sister was right: Sbot survived my aunting blunder. Mbot and Gbot will survive my parenting blunders. But will I?

With every parenting  mistake I make, is the number of possible mistakes left to make reduced? Or, like the universe, is the number always expanding?

2 thoughts on “Lava, Pompeii, and the Whole Crazy Thing

  1. Better to do the scarring and hardening-up in small chunks as you did than in one big wad. Had I seen more pictures of snakes preschool I might not have reacted so badly to “Doc Savage.” 😉

  2. Oh my gosh, I know it’s not funny but I laughed so hard reading this :). To clarify, Sbot didn’t just want to leave the Craters of the Moon, he sobbed and was terrified on that ‘special’ trip, sure the lava was going to get them. He wound up dragging Cbot and Dad home after a 30 second picnic. If it makes you feel better, I subtly asked him this morning, 5 years later, if he remembered being scared of volcanoes, or ever seeing anything scary about them. He replied that he once had a nightmare about them but seemed totally nonplussed. We need to take lessons from our children and let it go…don’t flog yourself, surely there will be something tomorrow to feel terrible about 😉 (and I’ll send you the bill for the therapy!)

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