I had a bad feeling last week when Irma was way out in the Atlantic that she was heading our way. I didn’t let it consume my thoughts until Monday when I went to Walmart and saw that water was gone and canned goods were quickly disappearing. I had enjoyed an action packed weekend with my daughter and was blissfully unaware that Irma was becoming more of a threat for South Florida.
I went home and read all the latest news and as with most hurricanes – the cone of uncertainty could easily be named the cone of anxiety.
Should we stay or should we go? My daughter has autism and both choices are wrought with change, interrupted routines and being confined (indoors or in a car). None of those things mix well with any child, let alone one that needs a lot of preparation when navigating change, new people, places and unfamiliar routines. I had just spent the last week preparing her for her birthday parties at school and with family all for naught – the parties would have to be cancelled.
Initially, my hurricane preparations involved staying put. I braved the Walmart crowds again and stocked up on water and non-perishable food items. With the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey still in the news and fresh on everyone’s minds, store shelves were being wiped out quickly.
By Tuesday morning, the fear and anxiety was palpable everywhere I went. My local social media friends were frantically trying to find water and propane. Gas station lines were backing up onto busy roads. By 5pm, most stations ran dry. Everyone is anxiously glued to the official tracking updates that come in every three hours, trying to make the decision about whether to stay and ride out the storm or flee the state. I decided that a Category 4 or 5 was enough for me to brave taking a 10-hour road trip with my daughter and our dog. The tracking updates made it seem that leaving was increasingly the safest bet. But the uncertainty was persistent, gnawing at every thought I had. I stayed up until midnight packing up our bags with clothes, snacks, and toys. Leaving was looking more and more likely.
Social media was full of opinions, histrionic news, and video simulations of the potential disaster. I wasn’t sleeping.
The 5am Wednesday update indicated that the storm will weaken by the time it reaches my location, maybe even veer off the shore. This made me feel a little more optimistic. I was still expected to show up at work. Schools are open, forcing some of us to try and act normal while a dangerous enemy is on the horizon. After filling my tank and getting my hurricane shutters installed, I went to Walmart to buy paper goods for my daughter’s preschool class. Her teacher messaged me to say she would help me throw a birthday party at school because she felt like my daughter deserved a party and we weren’t going to let the hurricane ruin all the fun. There was a line of people wrapped around the store waiting for water. The aisles of canned goods and snacks were empty; batteries and flashlights were gone. At barely 7:30 am, employees looked exhausted and worn down, thanks to three days of full parking lots and stressed out shoppers. On my way to work I saw that police were now securing gas station lines. Most stations were still out, putting more pressure on the stations that still had gas. The 8am advisory was continuing to look positive so I started considering staying. We might lose power, but we would have her toys and bed and things she knows. We would have the support of a handful of family and friends here. The storm might keep us out of Florida for a week or more as it pushes up the state, so I wondered to myself, “Was it even any safer to leave?”
At my daughter’s school, we held her birthday party at 8:30 am. Adorable and happy children surrounded us, completely unaware that in a few days, their routines might be uprooted. They may be displaced, without power, confused, and scared. As they ate their cookies all smiling and happy, the enormity of the situation weighed on me heavily. This storm is full of unknowns, but here I was doing the Hokey Pokey with a bunch of 3-4 year olds. As parents, we have the added responsibility of not only keeping our kids physically safe during a hurricane, but we also have to dig deep and put on a happy face to help our children feel secure.
Earlier this morning I read a story about a mother with a medically fragile child who was wading through water with her daughter on her hip, scared and uncertain, singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” as if it was the most normal thing in the world, in order to comfort her child. Children need to feel protected and loved even when a Category Scary hurricane is coming. So no matter what I do, stay or go, I need to focus on finding ways to give my daughter comfort. We will sing, we will bounce, we will dance and play with toys and hopefully she will feel safe, no matter what.