Duckling, like many three-year-olds is completely obsessed by fire engines, police cars and all things "memergency". I have lost count of the number of times I've been pulled into his emergency rescue games with cries of "Quick Mummy, there's a fire at London!" (I think this is his interpretation of Fireman Sam's catchphrase "Great Fires of London").
It is a very hard thing to explain to a three-year-old that fires are more than just 'exciting'. I tried a few months ago, when some neighbours down the road had a minor issue with a singed bedroom carpet, prompting the arrival of two fire engines in our street. He sort of understood, but mostly he just wanted to wave to the fire fighters.
Yesterday, the explanation of what had happened at Grenfell Tower was infinitely harder. He saw the pictures on TV as I watched the news. "Wow Mummy! That's a big building on fire! And lots of fire engines!" I explained that this was a genuine 'Fire at London', and after some confusion about it being in the building where I worked (London and my office seem to be largely synonymous in Duckling's mind) he grasped the concept that this was a building where people lived. He wanted to see more pictures. He wanted to see the fire and the fire fighters and the sad people. I showed him some pictures on my phone, then told him I couldn't show him any more as I was very sad too. He asked me why.
What I wanted to say was I was sad because so many people had died in the most horrific circumstances imaginable, leaving behind desperate parents, children, siblings and friends. I was sad that mothers had been compelled to throw their babies out of windows, or had faced the agony of losing their children in the choking smoke as they ran for their lives. That those who survived had just had all their earthly possessions taken from them, and would never, ever be able to return to their homes. And above all, I was sad that this tragedy had happened, today, in 2017, in a wealthy developed nation, not because of an unpredictable freak event, but because the prescient concerns of residents were ignored and safety was forgone for the sake of a few thousand pounds. That this whole awful, horrible disaster was so fucking avoidable.
You can't say all that to a three-year-old though. So I just explained that people's homes had burnt down, and some had lost their friends and family and that made me very sad because I could imagine how scared and upset they must be. "Oh." he said. "What if our house goes on fire? Would we be burned and trapped like the people?" I reassured him that our house was very unlikely to burn down, but if it did catch on fire, we could escape out of a window or down the stairs. "No Mummy. I would put out the fire with my fire stingsquisher! Ne naw ne naw!" he cried and zoomed off to build a towerblock and a fire station out of Duplo.
Three is hard. Old enough to understand and be scared, but not yet quite able to fully empathise and grasp the gravity of what a fire - particularly one on the scale of Grenfell Tower - really means. In a year, he will get it. Right now, I'm kind of glad that he doesn't.