My two-year-old is funny and joyful and extremely cute, but she requires a lot of patience, and I am often desperate to disengage from her. I am not alone in this feeling: At any playground, as soon as parents are behind their kids, pushing them on the swings, we’re on our phones, distracting ourselves with a little Instagram-induced adrenaline rush. Anything will do the trick: friends’ selfies, Twitter jokes, even silly videos of other people’s kids. But the images of the burning Amazon and Australian wildfires that keep popping up on my newsfeed are not the sort of adrenaline rush I hope for.
Raising a kid in this precarious moment requires both reckless denial and meticulous planning. Before our child was born, I put an emergency survival kit on the baby registry because I figured we might need to prep for the apocalypse as a family of three. My partner—not a doomsday prepper herself—was skeptical at first. But the kit I picked out was inexpensive. (At under $40, it’s a steal compared with the giant camo backpacks with their own printed “HELP” signs that retail for hundreds of dollars.) It was also one of the first items to go; a younger friend picked it off the registry right away.
If it were just my partner and me, we’d head for the open road when the time came or swallow cyanide together romantically. But babies need car seats and five square meals, including two to throw on the ground, and as we prepared for our kid’s arrival, I figured we should think about what we’d need to ensure her basic survival at the end of the world in advance.
I pictured myself holding my toddler in one arm, her folded-up crib in the other, the backpack we use as a diaper bag crammed with water jugs on my back, the cat obviously forgotten at home. It was not a comforting vision.
In a disaster-prep presentation at work right before the baby was born (because we have those now), we were told to keep four gallons of water on us at all times. I pictured myself holding my toddler in one arm, her folded-up crib in the other, the backpack we use as a diaper bag crammed with water jugs on my back, the cat obviously forgotten at home. It was not a comforting vision.
That’s how we ended up with our end-time kit. You register for gifts so that the kind people in your life can help you get ready for life with your child—the right car seat, the best crib, flares in case of disaster. The kit I chose is packed into a black-and-silver tin a little bigger than a deck of cards, with a Dia de los Muertos skull design for our Instagrammable escape. You can do a lot with a tampon in the wilderness, they say, like filter water or have your period for three hours, so we’ll be fine with the single one in the kit. There are iodine tablets and doll-sized fire starters that I don’t know how to use, plus Band-Aids, which will probably come in handy for wildfire burns. Okay, so our emergency kit is a box of Band-Aids. We’re all set!
It is a profound leap of faith to bring another person into the world, and it is extra profound now. Some argue that it’s irresponsible to produce another consumer as we battle climate change, a person who will probably eat beef and fly on airplanes and drive a car for 80 years.
“It’s easy to give up meat and ride my bike everywhere, but to sacrifice having a family is a big change,” my friend Carlie says. She’s a paleontologist who studies dinosaur extinction and wears an inflatable T. rex costume at Halloween, and she’s not sure whether she and her new husband will have kids. “There’s no way I can look at what we’re doing now and say a mass extinction isn’t coming,” she says, and I groan.
Those of us who plunged ahead despite the warnings are raising end-of-the-world babies.
Those of us who plunged ahead despite the warnings are raising end-of-the-world babies. Before she was born, I promised myself that once I had a child, I’d keep the gas tank full instead of zipping around with the warning light on like I used to, daring it to hit zero before I pulled into the cheap gas station. If we needed to evacuate, I intended to be able to leave. (I know several people who have fled climate emergencies, so the scenario is not as hypothetical as I want it to be.)
Is this what it felt like when our parents watched that nuclear war movie on TV in 1983 and freaked out, or does the inevitable march of climate damage coupled with our elected leaders’ calculated decision to do nothing about it make it different? Other millennial parents have already had to make terrifying decisions because of climate disaster, both in the United States and more often in hotter parts of the world. And like them, my spouse and I have also made decisions—to get gay-married before we had a kid so Mike Pence won’t snatch our baby, for example—that were related to global fascism, a tide rising in parallel to climate change.
Now that we have a child, we do depression math in our heads. Oh, we’re going extinct in 12 years? We’ve got 11 left, or maybe it’s 10 now. “We’re thinking of moving to Washington State,” someone tells us at a party, but that area might be too coastal if the sea level rises. We laugh nervously and fall into glib cynicism. No need to worry about retirement! Feel free to rack up debt, because we’ll live paycheck-to-paycheck for a decade and then it’ll be over! But glib cynicism doesn’t work when there’s a little kid in front of you. It is almost unbearable to imagine what atrocities she’ll witness and possibly endure, either with or without us.
Maybe that’s always been a fundamental paradox of parenting. We are so committed to keeping another human alive as the world we’re trying to prepare her for fades away. Raising children requires a dose of low-level hope no matter the circumstances—some background idealism that justifies the early-morning wake-ups and the end-of-day meltdowns. At minimum, it forces me to stay present in a way that is oddly enviable. I barely remember the first two months of my kid’s life, so immersed was I in the constant effort to keep her alive. I did not follow the news.
We are glad for the child bubble, and we also long to escape it. We do not know what’s coming next on our planet, and we can’t predict a child’s constantly evolving behavior. My partner and I share daily parental paranoias about our child’s demise (car accident, swimming pool), not unlike our low-level paranoia about our whole state burning. We walk around with either a fully stocked backpack, including snacks and a change of clothes, or we wing it and take her to the park with nothing, hedging our bets that she won’t leak poop everywhere or that this will be the precise moment we have to make a run for it. We don’t know how to deal with any of it.
All we can do is love her and love each other and try not to isolate ourselves. When things get bad, either midtantrum or in the world, we can reach out to each other, ask for help, and talk about all of it. It seems like that’s how to manage this pendulum swing from denial to reality, like parents have been doing forever, just now with an emergency kit on us at all times.
Tori Truscheit is an organizer, freelance writer, and queer parent based in Sacramento. Follow her on Twitter @toritruscheit.
Originally Appeared on Glamour