White Knuckles: Big, Bad Hurricane Irene

August 31st, 2011 by Kim Lenz

Last week, my wife was at home with the kids on a lazy late-summer Thursday for them. She put away laundry while the boy and girl parked themselves on the couch, watching a movie.

She checked on them after a little while and noticed the two of them slouched down on the couch, with a blanket pulled all the way up to their eyes. She asked what this was all about.

“We’re hiding,” my daughter said.

“We don’t want Hurricane Irene to get us,” added my son.

This was interesting. I was experiencing the threat of a hurricane for the first time, as a relatively new resident of Virginia. We hadn’t mentioned at all to our kids that there was a storm coming, certainly one called Hurricane Irene.

But enough conversations about the weather, and checking of hurricane forecast maps, and a trip to Target where mom bought a whole bunch of things she didn’t normally purchase allowed the kids to figure it out on their own.

When my wife talked with the kids about the storm, they were filled with all sorts of quizzical inquiries. “Is it like a tornado?” “Can the water wash us away?” “Is our house safe?”

Mom used the Big Bad Wolf analogy to describe it, and that eased our kids’ minds a little bit. We live in a brick house, so even though the Big Bad Wolf (or Irene) will blow and blow, it won’t blow our house down.

For the few days before the storm arrived, the kids had a great time. They wore their light-up miner’s hats around the house. My daughter, who’s learning her words, wrote out H-U-R-R-I-C-A-N-E I-R-E-N-E over and over.

On the morning of the storm, we sat in our screened-in back porch and ate breakfast while rain pelted down around us. The kids loved watching the squirrel that hung upside down on the screen of the porch in an ambitious attempt to stay dry. We played games, we watched a few movies.

Then at 4:29 p.m., the power went out and the storm stopped being fun for our kids.

In the dimming afternoon light, we looked around for something to eat for dinner. Questions like “Are we going to be safe?” came back almost instantly. It took longer than usual to get the kids settled down to sleep, and Saturday night itself was terrifying for the kids, with the winds howling and tree branches flying all around the house outside. Imagine how scary that would be if you were five and a half.

Three nights later, we’re still powerless. And the kids still haven’t gotten over that first night. Our daughter woke up shrieking on Sunday night because the lantern in the hallway had gone out with dead batteries. On Monday night, the boy yelled all night, inconsolable and not able to articulate why he was upset. It’s been a tough stretch for us.

But we’re lucky. Power’s started to come on in our neighborhood. Our only damage was a squirrel vent blown off our chimney, and likely the contents of our fridge and freezer.

What we received in return? Experience. Understanding that the Big Bad Wolf won’t blow your house down, but it’s OK to be a little scared of him (or her) too.

Brendan O’Hallarn writes White Knuckles every Wednesday for WYDaily. He has no idea what he’s doing as a parent. Do you have any ideas for him? Stories of your own? Write Brendan at Brendan@wydaily.com. You can also find him on Twitter, at http://twitter.com/#!/White__Knuckles.

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