Parents express affection in different ways. The care packages Mary Laura Philpott received when she was in college are a perfect illustration: If the package was from her mother, it would contain sweets, maybe something practical, perhaps money. But if her dad sent the box, it was almost always filled with canned food. It became a joke between Philpott and her roommate—“Here we go, another bomb shelter box”—as they slowly worked their way through the accumulated display of her father’s care.
Now, as a mother of two, Philpott expresses her love for her children through worry, often wishing for an actual bomb shelter to protect her family from every affliction.
This was especially true the morning Philpott and her husband, John, awoke to an unusual sound: a thump that turned out to be their teenage son in the throes of a seizure. Philpott’s anxiety levels skyrocketed in the aftermath of this event, and she began obsessing over ways to protect her boy and his younger sister.
Bomb Shelter is full of laugh-out-loud moments as Philpott weaves her recollections of growing up with present-day observations about her children’s adolescence. However, she is equally gifted in delivering heartbreaking moments, such as her husband rifling through their son’s belongings looking for any sign of a vape pen in an attempt to explain the seizure. (“He stuck a USB thumb drive in his mouth and tried to suck air through it. Nothing.”)
Fans of Philpott’s previous essay collection, I Miss You When I Blink, will find even more to love in Bomb Shelter. As Philpott grapples with anxiety, she seeks—and gives—comfort in the world around her. During the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, she prepared a Christmas dinner for a college-age couple who couldn’t go home for the holiday. “You build, if not an actual shelter, a box of food,” she writes. “You let that surge of caretaking energy go where it can—if not into saving the world, into saving this one day, or at least this one meal, for this one pair of people.”
Philpott’s openhearted joy and fear is relatable regardless of your parenting status—a reminder that, even amid the most frightening challenges, we are rarely alone.