A lot of people have asked me how Grace did as far as Tom’s cancer diagnosis and the storm, how she handled it.
As far as the storm, Grace was home from school most of that that week. She’d taken Friday off because of Tom’s surgery, went to school on Monday (the school did a great thing and spent the day talking about hurricanes, answering the kids questions, helping them to know what to expect), and then school was cancelled for the rest of the week in anticipation of the Hurricane Irma. Grace was aware of everything going on, and we talked about possible outcomes, but I made sure I kept the focus on the truth of the situation- the facts, the present moment. Tom did have surgery, but he was back home. There was a storm coming, but we were going to a secure place. Etc.
I think Grace was okay during all of this simply because she was going *through* it rather than thinking about it too much from the sidelines, if that makes sense. She was involved just enough in everything that was happening that she didn’t have to speculate about things that were going on. I think if you leave kids out of the loop (in an effort to protect them) you can do more damage than good because then their mind goes wild with all the things that *could* happen. But if you let them in enough to give them insight and participate, they get a sense for what’s going on and they feel like they aren’t helpless.
Grace just turned 12, and she’s a thoughtful and insightful person. She’s always been involved in every aspect of our life, and we consider her a important voice in most of the decisions we make as a family. She’s smart and resourceful and she often has opinions and ideas we wouldn’t have even come up with. (For example, when storm prep was going on, she was the one who noticed the torn weather stripping on some of the doors and suggested that Tom replace it before the storm- no one else even noticed that. And that was a *big* deal to keep the rain out!)
Throughout this whole experience- from the surgery to the hurricane thing, she was a trooper and I’m so glad she was around. She was this wonderful grounding force for me- because I was trying to keep her stress down, it forced me to keep *my* stress down. I had her spend the week after Tom’s surgery and before the hurricane just chilling out, sleeping late, and doing stuff she enjoyed- reading, writing, watching movies, working in her bullet journal, playing Splatoon on the Wii, texting with friends and comparing their strategies for keeping busy during the storm, etc- a lot of them were on the road headed north, evacuating from the storm, but just as many were here, stuck inside like she was, watching their parents figure things out.
Back to the (never ending, it would seem) hurricane situation: mandatory evacuations were issued for the whole *county*, even the inland areas. Once again, I question the decision not to evacuate. But then I reminded myself we would be in a safe place, and Tom really couldn’t travel. And by not having to evacuate a long distance, it gave us more time to secure the house for the storm and figure out what to take with us to shelter. And until the storm hit, we were in our house, using our things, making food in our kitchen, sleeping in our beds. The idea of having to leave our house (for the storm and who knows what after it) made me feel really grateful for the extra time we had in it before the storm.
While Tom secured the house, I packed and did some stuff inside. And I obsessively monitored the hurricane models and news. There were endless predictions about what might happen with the storm, and they were all bad. Our governor kept making comments such as “This is the most catastrophic storm the state has ever seen” and “get out now, we can’t help you…” and “you are not going to survive this if it happens” and “this is a nuclear hurricane.” I felt confident that we were going to be in a safe place during the storm, but it sounded like the storm itself was absolutely going to take everything out. I took those warnings very seriously as I packed. I forced myself to consider all the scenarios of how it could play out, just so we’d be as prepared as possible.
I felt a niggling fear that Hurricane Irma was going to turn Marco Island into a scene from Myst or something- we’d leave our house with the grass and the trees and the cars and the parking lot and the houses all around us as they normally are, and then the next day, after the storm passed we’d look outside and all there would be was water as far as the eye could see with a few buildings peeking out from the surface. The way the forecasters were talking, it seemed inevitable.
The other side of me said “that’s crazy, it’s going to be fine.” But then I thought about how Hurricane Irma wiped the island of Barbuda out- the entire population had to be evacuated from the island (see the news photo below) because the storm made it uninhabitable- and that was the thing that made me wonder, again, if we were going to be okay.
One thing that really upset me was thinking about the wildlife on the island and around Florida, in general. Humans could pack up and get to safe locations during a storm like this, but all the little animals- the birds, the lizards, the insects, the feral cats, the rats and snakes… what would they do? Where would they stay during the storm? It broke my heart. We have several little lizards that have lived on our lanai since we moved into the house- over a decade-and I was just heartbroken thinking about them in the storm. And all the birds that regularly come to our feeders- a lot of doves. How would they survive this storm? They usually cling on to the power wires when it rains, holding on for dear life. What would they do in a major hurricane? I know animals are resilient (more so than humans) but I wanted to go around the island and collect them all and temporarily house them in my garage so they would be safe. But there was absolutely nothing I could do for them. Argh.
As the week went on, I kind of narrowed down on a plan for packing for the storm that brought me some comfort: two weeks of supplies.
For some reason, I decided that if we brought two weeks worth of supplies with us to my parents’ building we’d get through it whatever the storm could throw at us. My reasoning for the length of “two weeks” was that even if we were stuck in my parents’ building for a while after the storm, even if the island went underwater in this “nuclear hurricane” and we had to be rescued, even if we lost our house and everything inside it, at least I’d have some things to reboot our lives with. We might lose a lot, but we wouldn’t lose absolutely everything.
That “two weeks of supplies” was sort of my north star during that week- it kept me moving forward. My job was to figure out what two weeks of stuff looked like and pack it.
Of course, I got some pushback from my parents. I think they expected us to just grab some hoodies and throw our phones in our pockets and head over there with nothing but the clothes on our backs the day before the storm. But this wasn’t some sort of slumber party- we were leaving our house and we had no idea when we’d get back in or if we’d get back in. Plus, the idea of bringing supplies for a major hurricane isn’t exactly frivolous.
In my parents’ defense, they usually aren’t here during hurricane season- ever year in May they go to North Carolina, and they stay there until hurricane season is over. So they aren’t drilled about the supplies you need like we are. Plus, their condo- aka their home- is literally *inside* the building that we were all going to shelter in. They didn’t have to leave their house without knowing if they would ever return- they didn’t even have to leave their apartment except during the harshest parts of the storm. Tom, Grace, and I just had whatever we were bringing, and we had no idea how long we’d be stuck there. So while a few laundry baskets filled with clothes, food, water, batteries, flashlights, some clean linens, pet supplies, our devices, a book each for Grace and I (plus I brought a few coloring books, a set of colored pencils, and a pencil sharpener as a power-free activity for during and after the storm, if it came to that) might have seemed excessive to them, if the things in those baskets ended up being all that Tom, Grace, and I had left to our names, then I don’t think it was excessive at all.
One thing that surprised me when I was packing was how little emotional attachment I felt to most of the things we were leaving behind. Tom even pointed out afterwards that I made no effort to move any of my paintings to higher shelves or wrap it in plastic bags to protect it. It didn’t occur to me. I did wrap my watercolor paint and my sheets of watercolor paper (the stuff I consider my true investments, the possessions of most value to me) and Tom brought the computers into interior closets, but that’s it. This whole realization of how little I cared about so much of the stuff we had would factor after the storm, but I’ll talk about that in another entry.
And, also this: I know I’m writing a lot about the issues my parents and I had during the storm, which I kinda didn’t plan on doing, but since I’m writing all this out for my own purposes (basically so I can let go of it all), including these aspects of the story is important because it was a part of the emotional roller coaster we were all on that week. Family is just a complicated thing in general, and when you add lots of uncertainty and a “nuclear hurricane”, tensions get amplified.