My husband was able to find us a hotel near the airport and an easily accessible road to our home. I shifted from prepping our home to packing the van. Now rather than the focus being on mitigating the possible mess and loss of freezer and refrigerator items (I filled every inch not already filled with ice and double bagged all my meat so if it did defrost hopefully the juices would be better contained) my focus was now on entertaining two active little boys trapped inside a hotel for a couple (but really an unknown number) of days.
I keep a stash of new sticker books, magnetic toys, puzzle books, and other small but (hopefully) entertaining items that I find great deals on just for occasions like this. Preferably I pull them out under much less dramatic situations!
As I was making a list of things that needed to be packed, my four-and-a-half-year-old (that half is very important) said, “Momma can you help me find a way that I can be helpful?” You bet kiddo! I asked him to find five books for him and five books for brother and bring them to me. Then I asked him for five Octonauts, five ocean creatures, five cars, five animals, five dinosaurs, etc. Are you sensing a theme? When we bring the same number of each kind of toy to a hotel or someone’s home, I find it much easier to make sure we are leaving with what we arrived with. We also brought books about the science of hurricanes because when you have the real-life thing available to you why not use it as an opportunity for learning. Involving him in the preparation greatly reduced his anxiety and gave him something productive to be engaged in.
I packed food (my boys have FPIES and very limited food they can eat and what they eat can’t be ordered in a restaurant), medicine, clothes, and everything else I could think of. As I was walking around my home and tidying a bit (who wanted to come home to a mess I reasoned) while thinking, I picked up a superman cape and was about to toss in the dress up box when instead I grabbed a couple of different superhero capes and masks and stuffed them in the pocket of one of the bags I was packing. Who knows?
We did not leave until the morning of the day the first tropical storm force winds were supposed to begin. One of our area churches was able to reschedule Sunday Mass to Saturday and so we were able to praise and worship together with many of our friends before hitting the road. Afterward we continued with song and fellowship, this was immensely calming to me and gave me the fortitude to hit the road.
The roads headed North and West were light, very light but the roads headed East and South were full though mostly with utility trucks, gasoline tankers, and tracker trailers presumably carrying supplies. The mood in the car darkened as we watched truck after truck zoom by to help or be ready to help as soon as the storm passed.
We got checked in to our hotel and headed out to Disney Springs to meet my brother and his family who had chosen to weather the storm near where we were. That afternoon we hung out and went bowling-something I had not done in like 15 years or more-though that probably didn’t affect my game which was at least entertaining to my boys. There was a lot of “Good try, Momma” and “It’s ok, you can try again next turn!” There was laughter and light feelings again.
We headed back to our hotel and settled in for the night. The winds started right about bedtime making the relatively short thirty-minute routine drag on for nearly two hours. Rains started shortly thereafter and came and went all night. The boys slept ok but when they were up they were harder to get back down than usual.
The next morning, we more or less went through our morning routine as is fairly typical for us. We cuddled, we read books, we ate breakfast, and we got dressed. My oldest asked what are we going to do today? I hesitated unsure. My youngest, who is 23 months, grabbed his wellies (aka rain boots) and this seemed like a great idea. It wasn’t raining at that moment nor were the winds high. We donned our wellies and headed out to find puddles which were plentiful! My boys got lots of running and jumping time in as we explored every puddle in the hotel parking lot and around the retention pond.
As the winds started to pick up, my youngest started to shiver so we came inside took warm showers and put on comfy clothes and settled in for lunch and rest time. By the time my youngest woke up from his nap the winds were steady and going outside of the hotel was no longer a safe option. My oldest watched out the window of our eighth-floor room as trees were beginning to sway. We talked about the storm and he let me know that he was getting worried about how bad it might get. It’s a mighty fine line to walk helping your child understand a situation when you yourself don’t actually know what to expect.
I knew we needed to get out of the room and remembered the super hero gear I had stashed in our bag at the last minute. I pulled out our super hero gear and said let’s put these on and go down to the lobby. As we were getting ready I said, “do super heros get scared?” My older son replied quickly, “I think they do get scared but they know they can handled it!” We headed off.
As we got off the elevator a man said, “hey Batman, hey Super Man good thing you are here because I was feeling scared!” (I could not have timed this encounter better if I had paid an actor.) My son confidently told him, “Super Heros get scared too but they know they can handle it and you can too!”
This was a turning point in the entire storm experience for us. Anytime anxiety started creeping in we’d grab our super hero gear and be reminded we could handle it. Even my youngest reminded us, when I turned on the news to check the latest tracking and they showed footage of the town where their Grandpas live flooding (reports were that water levels rose 7 feet in 90 minutes), he grabbed the Captain America cape and said, “here go Momma.” “Good idea, buddy!” I replied.
Our hotel lost power in the middle of the second night and had generators for safety systems and the kitchen. The lobby and mezzanine became hang out spots for basically the entire hotel. No one could leave because there was a curfew in place while first responders surveyed damage and made sure roads were safe to pass including setting up to direct traffic through traffic lights on major roadways. People were friendly and helpful but the mood was tense.
This is where the gift of the super hero gear gave again in a way that I did not expect. My boys were able to spread a bit of joy and provide comfort to strangers in our hotel. Each time we went down to the lobby as Super Heros we were greeted with big smiles and choruses of “the Super Heros are back! Thank goodness they are here!” I’m not certain they understood the service they were providing to our fellow hurricane watchers but they did understand that people smiled when they appeared. My oldest pointed to a group of people charging cell phones in the lobby and said, “Look they are feeling less scared now too!” “You are right, buddy they are!”
Murphy Benet is the mother of two boys, four and a half and one and a half, who both have FPIES. She is in the process of getting her family started in the adventure of homeschooling using the Montessori method. She and her husband live in Melbourne, Florida – just miles from the beach that she doesn’t get to visit nearly often enough.
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