I’ve never lived in a coastal state, which means I’ve never really had to pay attention to hurricanes. Tornadoes? Growing up in Missouri, I knew all about tornadoes. But hurricanes have never been of much interest to me.
Until last week.
Even in Upstate New York, two and a half hours north of New York City, we began to get the warnings. Grocery store shelves cleared out of water and canned goods. Packages of D batteries could have been sold on the black market. It was much like the scene we see before our yearly blizzard, but played out in tank tops and shorts.
Most of my family has moved out to Colorado already. It’s down to just me, a fuzzy poodle and a fussy cat. My daughter joined me from her apartment across town, I suspect to eat my food as much as to ride out the storm with me. And I was shocked to find, I wasn’t ready.
The eight flashlights I could find had three good batteries between them. My nearly empty fridge (remember, teen boys now live out West) had four water bottles sitting next to the jug of milk and cottage cheese. I had three dollars and a handful of change in my wallet. I was no poster child for “disaster preparedness.”
I have no excuse either. When our four children were all under age 11, we moved to Washington D.C. This was just nine months after 9/11 and the city was still on full alert. Most of our time there we lived under the red or orange terror alert warning and for five weeks in October, we also dodged a sniper’s bullets. I was ready back then.
I had jugs of water in the basement. I had fresh clothes, food, and first aid supplies tucked neatly in the trunk of our minivan. I watched the daily news with an eagle eye and knew the exact minute our children’s bus should be pulling down the street. Hey, I even had flashlights loaded with fresh batteries in every bedroom.
Then we moved to Utah. It felt much safer, much more “green alert.” I copied my Mormon neighbors’ habit of having some food stored away, and always had jugs of fresh drinking water sitting by the washing machine downstairs. I even had hundreds of dollars in cash (in tens and fives) hidden in the house, in case the ATMs ever went down.
Three years later, we moved our clan once again, way over to Upstate New York. Years had passed since 9/11, and my kids were much older and more independent. I got lazy. In the transition, I didn’t set up the water bottles in the basement. I had trouble keeping band aids stocked for regular blood related emergencies, much less disaster first aid kits. I regularly ‘borrowed’ from any cash I’d have stored in the house. The kids borrowed the flashlights and left them with burned out batteries. I didn’t feel an urgent need to replace them. After all, batteries are expensive.
Then Irene threatened to bless us. Even though most of my kids were not home for this storm, I realized very quickly how unprepared I had become. It was a nice reminder, without the horrible consequences, that being prepared, every day, is important. Some of life’s storms, like Irene, we get the luxury of fair warning. Others happen in a heartbeat.
I am giving myself a goal. As I set up our new home in Colorado, I will keep in mind the part of my job (as a mom) to keep my kids safe, in any situation. I will make sure we have some jugs of water, stocked first aid kits, and cash somewhere in the new house. I will go over safety rules with the two boys I have left at home – where to meet if the house is on fire and what to do if a disaster hits.
Irene was not a welcome friend, but she was a helpful one. Because of her, my mom disaster radar is back up and running. Oh, the power of a hurricane.