Originally posted Aug. 5, 2008
Wild night last night, huh? As for my clan, we hunkered down in our new home's cobwebby old basement with a game of Boggle, our kitty, a cell phone, flashlight, crank-powered emergency radio and a thermos of water. Oh, and some M&M's.
Best not forget the instant joy whilst dodging tornadoes and lightening bolts.
We made a fast-grab for these items before we headed downstairs to hang with the spiders. I'm not sure what worried seven-year-old Holly more: the spiders or the wacky weather, but I made a mental note to vacuum the cobwebs - and to 'get with it' and prepare for the next time we're told by weather forecasters to take cover.
Even though we were unsure just how serious the storm would become, we're still relatively new to the Midwest and have never before heard such stern, adamant weather warnings from local forecasters before.
So down we went. But not before grabbing the M&M's.
And besides, it's good to model emergency procedures for kids. School-aged kids are already familiar with these routines, as they periodically practice them at school, but for the younger set, an emergency sprint to the basement can be frightening. Not exciting, as I dared suggest to Holly, who set me straight as she huddled against me on my lap:
"This isn't exciting, Mommy, it's a storm." Yes. This is true. Though I actually love watching a storm from a cozy window seat, I can appreciate that others may not share in my enthusiasm. That said I've never suffered any storm damage, emotional or otherwise. If I had, I might feel differently.
Don't pretend you're not scared, if you are. Running for cover is scary (even if it's also a little bit exciting and feels a tad like an adventure), and denying that it is just confuses kids and teaches them to deny feelings. If they express fear or shed some tears, let them know that it makes sense that they'd find this all a bit overwhelming. You might even regale them with tales of times you and your folks had to take cover when you were a child, especially if you have a funny anecdote to relate. Like the time your great-Uncle Jack passed gas while you all crowded into the basement utility room, making everybody gag and laugh until they cried and cousin Joey threw-up. Make something up if you have to. Necessity is the mother of invention.
So we passed the hour playing boggle (Holly's been pining for a "family fun night" for a while now, but I doubt this is what she had in mind) while I perched on a child's antique wooden folding chair decidedly too small for my backside. The moment it began tingling with that unmistakable pins-and-needles sensation I seriously considered the wisdom of preparing for such occasions. For starters, I would need a comfier chair. I held my tongue for fear of raising the kids' anxiety, but I decided that we would need to prepare an emergency kit should we need to make another mad-dash to the basement. We'll let the kids contribute to a brainstorming session on the subject of emergency preparedness (but not during a scary storm). Having some control over some aspect of the experience can help kids to feel less anxious.
If, like me, you lack a finished basement outfitted with a bathroom, fully stocked kitchen and tricked-out media room, create an emergency kit filled with essentials and non-perishables that you can stow in the basement just in case. Or, if you live in a condo or high-rise where you lack basement storage, create a portable kit that can be grabbed as you sprint to your building's basement or emergency shelter. In this case, you might also want to pick up a couple of those light-weight fold-up tri-pod stools and maybe a blanket or two. (If you have pets, don't forget to provide for them. Unless you have a portable litter box, however, skip the food and water, unless you anticipate being sheltered for more than a couple of hours.) Flashlights, cellphones, fresh batteries and a crank-radio are must-haves, and consider a camping potty (with TP!), prescription medications and diapering supplies.
Bottled water, granola bars, dried fruit and nuts are good choices for your kit (don't forget to periodically rotate-out and replace expired items - even bottled water), and don't forget each family member's favorite snack. Oh, and don't forget to tuck in a couple of simple games. Remember, you'll be somewhat jazzed-up, so unless you have nerves of steel, skip new activities with complicated rules that your little ones (and you) may not be able to grasp under the circumstances. Stick with old familiar standbys. Familiarity is reassuring during times of crisis. Boggle, hangman, and a deck of cards would work just fine for my gang (Have I ever mentioned that my Psychologist-hubby taught our ten-year-old son how to play Poker? That's another blog post …). Sneak in a few novelties from the dollar-store, too. You may only need to pass an hour or two in the basement, but being well-prepared will help your family to more comfortably pass the time.
Jennifer DuBose, M.S., C.A.S., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Batavia.
See more of Jennifer's stories here.