Growing up in the Midwest, thunderstorms were my jam. I remember standing on the porch or in the garage with my dad, watching them roll in from the west, loving both the thrill of impending doom and the safety I felt in his presence. Whatever Mother Nature was going to throw our way, be it tornado or thunderstorm or blizzard or ice, we could handle it, him and me.
Fast forward to the present day. I haven’t lived in the Midwest for almost 20 years and it’s not thunderstorms I’m facing anymore. Now, it’s their god-awful cousin, the hurricane. Having lived in Florida for almost 14 years, we’ve definitely weathered our fair share of them. Just like a Midwesterner has a sense of the imminent danger of a tornado, and a Northerner can sense whether or not a coming blizzard will be one for the ages, Floridians know hurricanes. Like good ol’ Kenny Rogers, we “know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, and know when to run.”
So, we decided to “hold ’em” and hang on for the ride as Irma came to visit. And it became very clear to me as I started to look back on our experience, there have been some common threads with what we’ve been through in the past. I’ve decided there are stages to this whole business.
Want to know what it’s like to ride out a hurricane from a mom’s point of view? Want a behind the scenes glimpse into the crazy? Hold on tight, because here we go.
Stage 1: Heightened Alert
This is the beginning. You see the predictions start rolling in. Some tropical depression in the Caribbean got a bee in her bonnet and has turned into a hurricane. Will it come your way? Won’t it? You hope that the predictions are wrong, that the beast will stay away. But, at the same time, you think some “togetherness time” with your family would actually be kind of nice since everyone’s been so busy lately. Meanwhile, you try to hone your psychic skills so you know whether or not you should hightail it out of town. Thankfully, you’ve got 5 or 6 days until the storm hits.
Stage 2: Planning Mode A
You’ve watched and waited and prayed and you’ve made the decision to stay at home. Preparation is constantly in the back of your mind. You keep moving with your day to day routine and try to keep life as normal as possible for the sake of the kids. Any time you are out and about, you pick up an extra case of water or batteries and you never let your gas tank drop below 3/4 tank. You check to see that you have at least one, preferably two full propane tanks to power your grill. All of this, and the storm is still 3 or 4 days away.
Stage 3: Planning Mode B
This planning stage is more detail-oriented. You make list upon list of items to procure, household chores to see to, groceries to buy. You start asking anyone and everyone you meet what their plan is, are they staying or going? If they’re going, where are they headed? You second guess yourself about 15 times. You notice gas prices rising and the lines at the pumps growing longer and longer. The storm is now about 2 days away.
Stage 4: BUY ALL THE THINGS!!
Stage 3 and Stage 4 overlap quite a bit. While you’re doing all of the above mentioned tasks, you’re also going to Publix about 47 times. You buy all the snacks and all the bread and all the water, purchasing tuna and bananas out the yin-yang and all kinds of food your family normally won’t eat because it makes you feel better to buy it and because SURVIVAL. You slightly panic that you don’t have enough bread or water while simultaneously scoffing at all the people buying up all the bread and water.Then, once you have your pantry stocked, you have to threaten your family with their lives that they’d best not even think about actually eating any of it.
Stage 5: Self Defense
The hurricane is now about 36 hours away. People in the line of the most direct hit have already started evacuating. The roads are clogged beyond belief. You start fielding well-meant concern/questions/criticisms from far away relations. While you know their words come from a place of love, you are just scared enough that they feel like attacks. You question the (at this point unchangeable) decision you have made to stay in your home. You laugh with local friends about how you can’t wait to tell everybody up north exactly what they should do when the next blizzard hits, since you know, we Floridians know so much about blizzards. All the while defending yourself, your family, and your decisions to others and to yourself.
Stage 6: Giddy Distraction
Find all the funny memes and GIFs that people way more creative than you are making. Pass them around FB and Instagram like you’re being paid to do so because it’s funny and if we don’t laugh we’ll cry. Watch all the news coverage and decide that local news crews are way better at true hurricane coverage than the national outlets are. Go out to eat, go to a movie, go shopping with your girlfriends, anything to keep your spirits up. Misery loves company, right? Try to keep life as normal as humanly possible as there will be an absolute beast of a hurricane on your doorstep in about 24 hours.
Stage 7: Hunker Down
Funny how we only use this term to describe hurricane season anymore, isn’t it? Or maybe our northern friends use it for blizzards, too? I don’t know. There just really isn’t a better term to use! This is the manual labor stage of the game. There’s the outside work of boarding up windows, sandbagging, clearing off patios and yard doodads. Then you have the inside jobs of getting all of the laundry done, cooking anything perishable, baking up some comfort foods, and cleaning the house. In our family, we also try to go to Mass to get a much-needed boost of Jesus. Meanwhile, you watch the weather reports like it’s your damn job. By the time all of this is done, you’re lucky if you have 12 hours until the outer bands arrive.
Stage 8: Go Time
The hurricane is here. Watch. Pray. Distract kids. Eat. Try to sleep but fail miserably. Count the minutes. Wonder what wreckage you’ll find in the morning. Check in on social media. Repeat.
Stage 9: Assess and Give Thanks
The storm has passed, thank God!! You made it, just like you knew in your gut you would. Once it is safe, you go outside to assess the damage at your house. You wander the neighborhood, talk to people, discover how everyone else fared, and offer help where it’s needed. Then, you completely fall apart. The stress of the past few days hits the wall just as your exhaustion level maxes out. Hiding yourself from your kids, you cry out to God with thanksgiving that you and your loved ones were spared and with all of the pent-up fear you hadn’t allowed yourself to feel yet. Then you dry your eyes, square your shoulders, and move onto Stage 10.
Stage 10: Begin Again
After your cry and, God willing, a nap…it’s time to move on. You fix the damage that surrounds you, putting your home back together as much as you can and helping others to do the same. If you’re lucky, you have power and you share it with those who don’t. Most likely, your kids won’t be heading back to school for a few days, so you look for things to entertain them in the meantime. Lastly, you try like hell to put what happened behind you because you are lucky enough to live in this gorgeous place full of amazing people. And because you live here, you know that another hurricane will come in time. And you’ll be ready for it.