When the tornado sirens went off an hour after my two-year-old went to bed, we paused. “Do we wake a sleeping child?”
This may sound silly, but there are two things you need to understand: we live in an urban part of Dallas where severe weather is rare, and we are sleep zealots. (This parenting choice means we have left lunch with friends early to get our kid in bed by the beginning of the nap window). But as I turned to close our indoor shutters, I immediately noticed something I had only read about in books: an eerily green sky. “Let’s get him.”
My husband picked up our toddler, who was now screaming and inconsolable from being dragged from sleep, and we were faced with our second conundrum: where do we go? Weather reports had just reported tornado sightings, and winds of 140 mph. We live in a one-story with no basement and no interior rooms. We decided to hunker down in our master closet: an ironically named 3×3 space crammed with boots and clothes that barely fit our now-thrashing toddler and myself. My husband huddled outside the closet door.
He kept the phone (now running on data since all power and internet had been knocked out by the storm) spewing weather forecasts and predictions about which way the storm would turn next. At one point, our son took a breath from screaming and I remember hearing, “the tornado has been confirmed touching down at Forest and the tollway” — just minutes from our home.
There is a strange seesaw of emotions teetering between the security of having everything you love within three feet of you, and the panic that all of it could be imminently taken away.
We were lucky. Our neighbors were lucky. In many ways, because there were no deaths attributed to the storm, the city we live in was lucky. I keep reminding myself of this. At the same time, some of our friends’ homes have no roofs, and another can’t get their van with all four car seats out of the garage due to a tree falling on it.
Our son lost his school. Its windows were blown out. The week prior we had been asked to bring photos of family members so the students could identify familial relationships: sister, brother, aunt, grandfather. Those photos are now scattered for miles around the school. A week later, the intersection that the school sits on is still impassable due to downed electrical lines, fallen trees and broken glass.
Our son won’t be around his group of school friends again on a daily basis. His teachers lost their jobs in an instant. The school hopes to rebuild someday, but I dread having to tell my son that his “new school” of two months, which we had all come to love, is gone. “It’s a little broken,” we’ve mentioned this week as his grandmother came into town so we can search for a new school for him.
As a parent, my kids’ well-being has been my main concern. Until today, I didn’t notice my own need to process this trauma and grieve this loss. The stress of finding a loving, safe, educational environment for our toddler mid-semester with an immediate start date has nearly driven us to exhaustion. Maybe being pregnant has something to do with my heightened sense of emotions, but I hear similar sentiments from others who have been through this too.
I know many in our city right now are, like my son’s school, “a little broken,” but not we’re not completely shattered. We will find a new school. Our friends will extract their van out of the crushed garage, and roofs will be repaired. In time, we will rebuild. Something that has amazed me this week is the resiliency of humankind, and our ability to keep moving through difficult times. And the ability during disasters to stay centered on what is important: those people that we cling to within three feet of us.