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I Grew Up With Terrorism And This Is How I Cope As a Mom

Photograph by Twenty20

The world may seem like a scary place nowadays, but what I would like other moms to realize is that it’s always been that way. If you grew up in the U.S. for example, until September 11, 2001, you probably didn’t think terrorism would happen in your country. Terrorism should not happen here or anywhere. But it does. Almost every day.

A few weeks ago in Fort Myers, relatively close to where I live, I woke up to the news that young kids were shot outside of a party at a teen club. Before that was the mass shooting in a gay nightclub in Orlando—in which 49 people died and 53 were injured—less than a two-hour drive from where I live. Those are just two tragedies that hit really close to my own home. And then of course we have international terrorism: Paris, Nice, Munich, Turkey, the list goes on. The feeling is that we are no longer safe anywhere.

Recently, as I sat in the movie theater with my family, I had a fleeting—but still unsettling—thought. What if a gunman walked in and started shooting? I could hear the gunshots in my head, I visualized the people screaming, I could see blood everywhere. Then I breathed in deeply and shook my head. “You can’t do this to yourself,” I thought. “You can’t do this to your children. Remember when you were a kid!”

I gathered my composure, focused on the movie, and exhaled. After all, this is not much different from how I grew up, with the threat of terrorism around every corner. I grew up in Spain under the threat of terrorism by ETA, an armed terrorist organization based in Northern Spain.

Some call them separatists and extremists, but in Spain we call them terrorists. They have killed countless civilians over the years, placing bombs in supermarkets, public buses and trains, even houses. I will never forget when as a young girl, I walked by a building that had been bombed a few days earlier. It was a couple of blocks away from where we lived. It was military housing, and families had been injured, including children.

When I was 14, ETA detonated a bomb in a supermarket in Barcelona, killing 21 people and injuring 45. Every summer, ETA would threaten to blow up summer resorts, set off bombs in public places—and they did. You never knew where the next tragedy would strike.

The worst way to face it is to lock yourself indoors and stop your regular life out of fear.

The most recent attack I remember vividly is the 2004 Madrid train bombings, the same year that my youngest was born. They were attributed to an al-Qaeda-inspired terrorist cell. The incident happened at the Atocha station, where I’ve passed through countless times during my regular commute between Madrid and Seville.

I am not saying that living under the constant threat of terror is a great way to live. But the worst way to face it is to lock yourself indoors and stop your regular life out of fear. When I’m feeling fearful or nervous, I pull out my coping mechanisms, the same ones I used when I lived in Spain, and keep on going.

Because I grew up knowing that terrorism could hit my family, friends, or even myself at any time and place, I didn’t allow that to permeate my daily life. We had to deal with it and we couldn’t hide from it. It was always present, but it never dictated how we lived our lives. For some people terrorism appears to be something new. It is not. It’s just that now, it’s practically in our backyard.

When I lived in Spain and there was a terrorist attack on a bus, a train, the subway, a supermarket, we didn’t stop taking buses, trains, subways or going to the supermarket. We couldn’t live paralyzed by fear.

How I deal with fear of a terrorist act:

  • I remind myself that we can all make a difference. I raise my kids to realize that terrorism is a cowardly response to differences of opinion. I teach them to be compassionate.
  • I join movements for gun control. I go to the voting polls and vote against a candidate that spreads hatred. I speak up against racism, bigotry and violence.
  • I continue life as usual. I won’t stop going to the movies, to a club or traveling by plane or by train. I won’t stop visiting other countries. If we all stop living life as usual, they win.
  • I meditate, write in my journal, reflect on the beauty of nature. It may seem like something fruitless, but if we all work on calming our minds and spirits, the world can only become a better place.
  • I trust in my children’s generation and those who come after them. Although the world may seem like it’s coming to an end, we can’t forget World War II. It was not that long ago. My abuelita lived through the Spanish Civil war. Things can change a lot in a lifetime. I can only hope they change for the better, and that I live to see it.

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