A long time ago, my husband and I had a conversation. I am not sure who broached the subject first. It might have been Joe. After all, he is a Chicago firefighter who is forced to think about disaster on a regular basis. On the other hand, it might have been me, someone who witnessed the confusion and chaos of a company impacted by 9/11. Either way, the outcome of our discussion resulted in a single blueprint, a detailed plan, one that we named:
When the Sh*t Hits the Fan
For the sake of brevity, I’ll just call it WTSHTF from here on out.
At the time of our first draft, we weren’t quite sure what the impetus might be for needing this document. Yet I could not forget how much time and effort was spent putting together Crisis Continuity binders for my former company. Everyone from the CEO down to the head of IT had explicit instructions and accountabilities for ensuring the safety of personnel and the continuity of business operations.
Corporations define “crisis” broadly. It might involve a natural disaster, a global upheaval, or anything that threatens business as usual. Years later, I felt that my family was no less important than any big corporation out there. I had my own vested interests, my own long-term projects to consider.
They were called Daniel, Jack, and Joey.
When the tragic and confusing events began unfolding in Boston Monday afternoon, many Chicagoans offered up prayers and condolences to all those effected. And even though I recognized that Boston was hundreds of miles away, I was suddenly overcome with the overwhelming desire to implement Step 1 of the WTSHTF Plan, which is:
GET THE KIDS.
Call it paranoia, call it over-reacting, but I could not shake the impulse to grab my sons as quickly as possible. I tried to stifle this urge, but then I remembered how Oprah always said to never ignore your gut. As Joey was already home from preschool, I eyed the clock. Daniel was on the bus home, so that only left Jack. Joey and I arrived at the principal’s office in record time, and I sheepishly requested my middle child. The secretary pointed to the binder where I was to sign him out. There, in big letters, was typed: “REASON FOR DISMISSAL.” Without hesitation, I answered honestly:
Jack appeared and we then retrieved Danny off the bus. Jack seemed perplexed. He asked if he had a dentist appointment.
My WTSHTF Plan did not include a single detail or recommended lie for keeping the kids calm while mommy lost it. Before I had a chance to answer, I noticed some fat raindrops, so I improvised until I could find the right words to help make sense of Boston tragedy:
“Oh, since it was so close to the end of the day, I didn’t want to get caught in this thunderstorm because I didn’t bring my umbrella today.”
Jack eyed me suspiciously.
“You pulled me out of school because you didn’t want to GET WET?”
I think Jack may work for the FBI one day.
Regardless, we arrived home, and for whatever reason, my Spidey Sense that had been blaring like a tornado siren only an hour before had now completely subsided. I felt no pressure to implement Steps 2-18 of WTSHTF. My kids were with me, I could protect them, and the tight grip on my chest loosened.
I cannot imagine how difficult it is for those in Boston this week. I pray for the parents, the children, and all those first responders who once again ran towards the smoke because that is how they are wired. My husband is one of those people. Sadly, I am not. I have often thought that people reveal who they truly are by where they go when danger lurks (real or imagined).
On Monday, I ran towards my kids. When I confessed to my husband later that evening what I had done, I felt embarrassed. In hindsight, I figured he would chastise me for being irrational and reactionary. But instead, Joe responded:
“You are a mother, Marianne. I would not expect you to run anywhere else.”