The last five days have been a little tense and a lot of relief.
Late last week we focused on the news as reporters offered an hourly update on the path of Hurricane Irene. They seemed certain that she was headed straight for us. At over 460 miles wide, we knew we would be deluged with high wind, massive rainfall and power outages.
On Friday and Saturday, our family checked batteries in flashlights, lifted boxes and loose carpets off the basement floor, and tucked away the patio awning, chairs and cushions. At the last minute I headed to Home Depot for a generator, but they had been sold out for days. We crossed our fingers and hoped that when we woke up on Sunday there would be power to keep our sump pump running in our basement.
Throughout those few tense days of preparation we were aware of how the news and our own anxieties may affect our children. My sister and her two boys were scheduled to fly back home on Saturday evening, but knowing the airports would shut down, she rebooked for a few days later. As Saturday evening approached, three adults and four kids (ages 7 to 12) prepared for wind and rain, and found ways to lighten concerns for a good night’s sleep.
Preparing Children for Disaster
We got ready for Sunday as if we were camping. All four of our children know how to camp.
1. Flashlights: We retrieved all our camping flashlights and battery-operated lanterns from the basement and made sure they all worked. One flashlight went with each adult to bed, and the rest sat in a bin on the fireplace. One of our lanterns has a nightlight switch. We turned it on and left it in the hall outside the bedrooms.
2. Water: We filled bottles of water and froze them in the big freezer. On Saturday night before bed we moved the frozen water bottles to the kitchen fridge.
3. Glow sticks: Our youngest received a glow stick to sleep with, and we set the rest of them on the hall floor outside the bedrooms.
4. Food: We precooked taco meat for Sunday dinner, knowing we could either eat tacos cold or heat the beef on our propane-powered Coleman stove or grill. I considered moving much of our next days’ food to a cooler for frequent access, but decided that pulling out food would be best left for when the power actually went out.
My husband, sister and I were all conscious of how much news was on TV. We didn’t want to overwhelm the kids with state-and-country disaster preparation, but we wanted to track what was happening. We chose news stations which tend to be more rational and less sensational. We didn’t need to hear overblown reports of the worst potential storm activities.
However, when we did watch the news we commented on what we saw. “That windy seashore is more than 12 hours drive south of us.” “The government preparation is for worst case. We won’t feel the worst case.” “We are inland by  miles.” “The eye of the hurricane won’t go over us.”
For our seven-year-old, we dropped the term “eye” and just called it “the hurricane.” This way we could say that it wasn’t passing directly over us, though we did say we’d feel the wind and rain from the outside of “it.”
Personal Outcome from the Hurricane
As many of you already know, our house was one of the very fortunate. Though we woke up a few times to the rain and wind (the worst was 2am to 6am), we never lost power, no trees fell directly around us, and we didn’t experience flooding (though our backyard was a complete lake for a few hours).
We are extremely grateful for our circumstances, and thankful that everyone we know in the area, from New Jersey over to Long Island, is safe (though we know some of our Long Island friends are still without power).
On Sunday we stayed inside as the winds continued to burst through our community. Whether we watched TV, read or played games, we tended to hang out in the same room. It was nice knowing we were all together and that we all felt safe. When we finally ventured out for a walk in the afternoon, we tread carefully, watching the trees for falling branches and keeping the kids close to us. Later that day my sister and I drove to the Passaic River (6 miles from us) to see if it had flooded. It had. At the time it looked like the flood we’d experienced this past spring.
Now two days later, the Passaic River is finally cresting at a historic 5 and 12 feet above flood level. There are multiple communities on three sides of us who are either without power or sitting in an overflowing river (or both). We sense their loss and frustration and hope their lives will return to normal soon. It is a helpless feeling to know so many have suffered personal loss, but we are thankful most of the east coast prepared well and kept lives safe.
Nature can be devastating. When we can do some advance preparation, we can save lives, some property and some sense of peace. We can thank news reporters for letting us know just how much preparation we need to do in times like this.
As we prepare to drive my sister and my nephews to the airport, I also know our family’s sense of well-being and safety is equally important. By balancing preparation with a light-hearted approach, by watching the news but not dwelling on it, we all felt better about this hurricane and appreciated the opportunity to be together for it.
How does your family deal with upsetting or stressful circumstances? How do you create some sense of peace for your family?
I’d love to hear your opinion, and hear how you are doing.
PS. Some of you have received recent email versions of this post with words stuck together. I apologize for the reading difficulty and haven't yet figured out why this happens. However, if you click on the title and go to the online post, the words will read normally. LH