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'Daddy, What’s the Apocalypse?'

My daughter asks me about the Apocalypse. A lot, really. It's a regular topic of conversation in our house.

She's 9 years old.

It is not a topic that I was prepared to address with my fourth-grader. I guess I assumed I had more time or ... to be honest, I can't remember ever sitting down with my parents to ask questions about the end of the world. Who knew this was something you had to talk with your kids about? I was so prepared to engage her in productive conversations about sex, death, positive body image or online predators that I just hadn't given much thought to putting together talking points on The End of All Things.

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Apparently, that was a mistake because kids find the concept of Armageddon to be very, very interesting—at least, mine does. At bedtime one night recently, she asked me what "post-apocalyptic" meant. I was taken aback, but as I tried to explain it—and inquire where she'd heard that term—I started to realize that the Apocalypse is everywhere lately.

What would happen to us? Or Grandma? Would we have to eat our dog to survive?

For starters …

One of the most popular movies of last year was Mad Max: Fury Road.

"The Walking Dead" is one of the most successful TV shows in the past decade and—can I say—way, WAY too many kids in my daughter's elementary school claim that their parents let them watch it. (Really? REALLY?!)

Tween and teens love YA book and movies series like "The Hunger Games" and "Divergent," all set in the aftermath of a complete societal collapse.

There are multiple children's book series set during wacky zombie plagues, tons of families participate in survivalist training or Zombie Runs and the next X-Men movie is even titled "X-Men: Apocalypse."

As a society, we're OBSESSED with the end of the world. And, as parents, that means that we get to field all the questions that come with that obsession.

Will the planet die one day? When will the sun burn out? Can we survive a nuclear bomb? Are zombies real? How fast can a virus spread? Why do people want gasoline and water so badly after the Apocalypse? (To clarify, I haven't let her watch "Mad Max," but she seems to know quite a bit about it.) What would happen to us? Or Grandma? Would we have to eat our dog to survive?

Yeah ... not the most fun questions to tackle at bedtime. The larger questions are easier, particularly since zombies aren't actually real and we've got a few billion years left on the sun, but the smaller questions, the hypothetical questions, are harder. I'm mostly just watching my daughter tiptoe around her own anxieties. I try to keep it light. We will kick butt in Armageddon. You'll be a warlord. We will feed misbehaving scavengers to the dog. But, at the same time, I do need to show her that I'm taking her concerns seriously.

She is, essentially, asking me, "What will happen to us, if the worst happens?" And, even though I know saying, "We will be fine," isn't very helpful, the conviction that I put behind the words can mean everything. It can mean the difference between a good night's rest and a week full of restless, fitful nightmares.

We have to take something as crazy as the end of the world and find a way to explain it so our children can wrap their heads around it.

But practical questions about nuclear fallout or gasoline hoarding aren't nearly as bad as the questions about the WHY of the Apocalypse.

WHY would we let the world end? WHY do some people seem excited about it? WHY are there so many books, movies and video games about the worst case scenario? Is it because it's going to happen sooner than we think?

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It's not easy to talk about stuff like that with a 9-year-old. You have to be honest—because I truly believe that kids can smell it when you're not—but you also have to contextualize the hell out everything. You have to separate the lies from the truth and teach your kids how to move forward even in the face of some ugly truths.

This is our No. 1 job as parents. We have to take something as crazy as the end of the world and find a way to explain it so our children can wrap their heads around it.

I told her that there are MANY reasons why people love talking about the end of the civilized world. Some just have to do with good storytelling. All the best stories involve conflict, and what introduces more conflict than putting familiar characters—i.e. people like us—into the most extreme and impossible situation you can imagine? It makes for great TV (and mostly mediocre movies).

But, yeah, not all of those situations are "impossible." Sometimes, when people write about the Apocalypse, they're trying to make people think about all of the issues in the world that we ignore on a daily basis. If they write about a zombie plague, they might be calling our attention to how much we rely on phones, supermarkets and everything else we take for granted. If they write about a futuristic world where all the coastal cities have flooded, they might be calling our attention to the impact of global warming.

Who knows more about fear, anxiety and being ignored than children?

While stories like "The Hunger Games" and "The Walking Dead" aren't particularly likely, there are kernels of truth within them, which is why they resonate so deeply. More than anything, those stories tell us what people are afraid of, what gives them anxiety and what things in the world they feel we shouldn't be ignoring. That's why people are so drawn to them.

And that explanation seemed to work for my daughter. She understood that reasoning, which makes sense, because who knows more about fear, anxiety and being ignored than children?

So, yes, one of your jobs as a parent will be explaining the Apocalypse to your kids.

That sucks, right?

But keep in mind that past generations of parents had to answer bedtime questions about Krampus or cholera or "Duck and cover," so we're in good company.

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The best we can do is try to be honest, acknowledge their anxieties, admit our own and let them know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that no matter what happens, as a family, we'll get through it together, even if it means killing a whole buttload of zombies.

Photograph by: Twenty20

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