My children are all right. I can exhale. Hurricane Sandy was the first natural disaster my husband and I sweated out sans kids. Schools were closed throughout our area for a week, but in our home, there was no celebration of the unexpected bonus vacation. There were no pancakes to flip, no vicious games of Monopoly to referee and no coin tosses to determine who gets to stink up the bathroom first. Those days are distant memories now. They were the good ol' days. Except when they weren't.
I remember an ice storm sometime in the '90s that left us without power for several days. School was closed for almost two weeks. Our neighborhood was glazed in ice, rendering all outdoor activity treacherous and possibly even deadly. We were trapped inside for days on end. My right eye begins to twitch every time I think of it.
For an entire week, I was June Cleaver on steroids. I orchestrated the Family Olympics, wrapping a candle in tin foil and passing it from indoor athlete to indoor athlete before perching it on a candlestick holder my grandmother brought back from the old country. Competition coursed through my boys' veins like storm water through gutters. I held competitions in gymnastics and tic-tac-toe and tiddlywinks. I had them run relay races while balancing hardboiled eggs on spoons. They ran up and down the steps 30 times and wrote their names backwards and raced rubber ducks in the bathtub. At the closing ceremony, I revealed that the final tally had resulted in a three-way tie. I can't imagine how that happened. Silver medals all around. Tin foil is useful in oh-so-many ways!
The next day, we baked cookies and the day after, we immersed ourselves in art and culture. The following day, I let the boys watch television for 18 hours straight. I had become delirious by then.
I remember watching the news on the 9th or 10th day of captivity. Some random psychologist offered withering mothers a laundry list of craft activities guaranteed to provide a jolly good time for all the inmates, I mean children. I threw a shoe at the television set.
"Easy for you to say, Mr. Psychologist," I screamed to an inanimate machine. "You sit there so smugly in a warm television studio surrounded by intelligent adults and pots of hot coffee that are magically refilled every time you need a caffeine fix. Try being me for two weeks during an ice storm. After four days, you'll be begging for the serenity of a mental institution."
I wanted solitude. I longed to be able to read a book for a couple of hours, to sip a cup of tea while marveling at Mother Nature's delicate icy lacework on the trees in our backyard. I wanted to luxuriate in a warm bath without worrying that someone would dislocate an important joint while I was moisturizing.
A couple of decades later, Hurricane Sandy has made all of that possible. With my children grown and scattered I had nothing but free time. I could have read incessantly were it not for the fact that I was too busy thinking about the kids to concentrate. My son in New York City waited too long to buy a flashlight and supplies were depleted by the time he finally got himself to a store. I envisioned him alone and lonely in the dark with nothing but a ginormous jar of peanut butter for sustenance. My son in Philadelphia neglected to replace his warm coat after it was stolen last winter. Would he freeze to death in a blackout? Would the son in sunny LA be concerned about us here in Sandy's path? Would he call to check in?
I know my sons are intelligent and resourceful and caring. I know now that I need not have worried. But old patterns are difficult to break. No matter how trying the days had been during past blizzards or floods, no matter how exhausted I became being chef and baker and maid and social director and nurse all rolled into one, the job had its consolations. When this mama duck tucked her duckies in at night, she knew they were safe under her protective wings, and, as Robert Frost would have said, that made all the difference.
I am certain now that my offspring are as capable as I am of coping with unexpected acts of God. No one froze, no one starved and everyone kept in touch with concern and pathos. The next time (and there will be a next time) our neck of the woods is storm-struck, I will plan ahead by having several good books, flashlights and batteries and the confidence that my children will weather the weather. Is that a pig that just flew past my window?