Julz of Life Parenting Reflections

Parenting Tornadoes – Choosing Through Helplessness

Parenting Tornadoes
Parenting Tornadoes julzoflife.com Walker Ashley's photo of Rochelle Tornado 2015
Photo by Walker Ashley, Northern IL University

In my business, we talk a lot about choice.
All of us have choices to make, all choices have consequences.

There are some things about which we have no choice and it gets very tough, as parents, to help our kids through spaces where we ourselves feel helpless. Last night was one of those moments.

We were at a music performance for our kids at a local resort. Weather was typical for the Midwest. Thunderstorm warnings, watches, conditions favorable for tornadoes. They had prepped for months for a fantastic country rock show with a band of fellow ‘tweens.  Choice – question whether the show should postpone/cancel due to weather, or take a deep breath and rock on? The show went on. Weather often passes. It’s cause for alertness and agility, not the halting of life.

As they were on stage, the lightening over the lake through the windows behind them was incredible, almost magical. I popped onto Facebook to post just that. “It’s so good… there’s LIGHTENING in the background!!”

Then I saw that a tornado had hit just west of my hometown. Several responses came in telling us to stay alert as it was headed in our general direction.

Choice – stop the kids now and take cover, possibly prematurely and freaking them out, or be calm, watch and wait?

Looking up at the glass behind the band, I asked the manager what the emergency procedures were. She let us know we had no warnings yet, but we’d be directed to the basement.  As the final song was played, the sirens started and we headed to the bowels of the resort. My kids were well ahead of me, not with me, which made me uneasy.  

Choice – yell out for them, exposing the panic in my heart, or remain calm to serve the situation?  I looked back.  A friend was with us and I could see in his eyes that he’d make sure the room was cleared. It gave me comfort. I made a joke about getting to see all the resort’s secret hiding places.

I caught up with the kids. My eldest began to cry. She was thinking of Sully, our dog. He was home alone and since he witnessed a tornado in 2010 (see Blown Away), he’s not been the same in bad weather. Her tears begat my welling up. I was caught off guard as all the scenes from 2010 became fresh. Code red, don’t lose it now, Mama!

Choice – where to focus our energy – openly share in her worry (I was already at the brink of over-share), or instill positive thoughts and prayers?

“The house will be okay, Sully will be okay, the horses we love at our neighbor’s farm will be okay. Know in your heart that the animals can hear you and feel your support.  I’m sure Sully is scared, but he’s smart.  He’ll remember to go to the basement like we did.” Of course, I was trying to believe all of this myself as it came past my lips.

I’m sure I then divulged more detail about my 2010 tornado experience than anyone cared to know at the moment, but it was a similar situation that turned out okay.  It reminded my daughter that since that incident, our Shepherd has led us to the basement at the first sign of danger. When we made it home last night to find our house unharmed, our Sully was in the basement, like we’d hoped.

He cried. I cried. And together, we eventually stopped shaking.

I’m aware that no amount of time passes without my recalling my tornado sighting and having a deep respect for the power of nature. As my youngest asked back in 2010 when we were spared but neighbors lost homes, “How does it choose?” We aren’t sure sweetie.  We can use what we know to predict.

Parenting can be so much like a tornado. We can’t stop change, growth, emotions, and many other situation from happening. We just choose how to prepare, how to arm our kids with sound decision-making skills and how to see multiple options for their reactions. And if our choice isn’t working out, we change course, choosing again.  Use what we know to predict.

My thoughts and prayers go out to all the families who experienced loss last night during the tornadoes.

From Julz of Life Blog, November 2010:

Blown Away 

Thankfully, I wasn’t. My family wasn’t either. But three days before Thanksgiving, I stood stunned as I watched a tornado cross in front of me and then (I learned minutes later) travel on to destroy neighbors’ houses.

Before it hit, I was banging away at my keyboard trying desperately to finish a volunteer project that had been looming for some time. I’d been at it all day to avoid the feeling that I’d forgotten to add that “one great bit of info.” (This typically happens after I hit “send.”)

We live in the country. Can’t hear any sirens unless I’m outside, the wind is perfect and I cup my ear (a lot.) It was nearly 70 degrees in November. The sky had been a tumultuous mess all day, so I’d been pretty calm about it. I knew conditions were perfect, but this is often the case here in the Midwest.

I was focused. That day, I didn’t even bother to have Wunderground in the background. I wasn’t listening to a radio, I just typed.

My cousin called. “Are you in your basement?”
“Get there. There’s a warning. It’s heading toward the state line.”
From my driveway, a person could throw a ball to the state line. (Not me, but a person with a good arm…)

I looked out at the sky. Not great, but not much different than much of the day. I saved my work on all 4 pages. I silently warned Murphy not to take my computer in a funnel and fly it into Lake Michigan (that would be just like him… after all, I was almost done.) I called to the basement to see if my hubby was in his office. (He’s always on one weather website or another and calms me down when I freak about what’s out the window.) No answer.

Phone still in hand, I went downstairs, now with greater speed. I live in a house of glass with a walk-out basement. I wasn’t even completely certain of the “safest” place to huddle. I opened the front door. It was pouring. Our German Shepherd shot in like, “Thank God! Have you SEEN it out there??” (He’s typically keen to remain outside no matter how inclement.)

His reaction escalated my fear. “C’mon Sully!” Grabbed flashlight while calling husband’s cell. Ran to basement, checking out windows. Sheets of rain, dark clouds. Trying to get on Wunderground downstairs. Fingers not working, then can’t read what it says. What does a pink triangle mean? What’s that noise? It’s our heater fan. Shut it off so I can hear! Ran upstairs. Shut it off.

Husband was at the bank. Children were hopefully still at the school (it was dismissal time.) Faster yet went my heart. Why do tornadoes like 3pm??
Sully followed wherever I went. (Even to a quick stop to the john, which is in the room where he gets bathed. Not typical dog behavior. I peed turbo fast.) Opened door to small room of safety. Basement floor. Dashed out.

Flashlight, phone, dog. Pillow to sit on, blanket. Radio? Dashed to family room, stopped.

Looked up.

A charcoal gray column about 200 feet wide was in front of me, just beyond our pond. The rain had stopped, the air just outside the giant windows in front of me was calm. I mouthed, “Oh, dear God. There it is.” Mouth and eyes agape.

“Sully come!” We huddled on the floor of the little room and he licked my face while I sobbed, thankful for redial since I couldn’t see. “I just saw it… I saw the tornado.”

“You saw it?!” My husband was still at the bank, but now outside watching the storm as it had passed. “It’s passed. You’ll be okay. I’m coming home.”

We agreed he should check the school to be sure the kids were still in it, rather than en route. He did. They were.

I called my dad, still huddling, still sobbing. Still wrapping my mind around what I’d seen. Still wondering all the “what if’s.”

The phone kept ringing. We still had power, miraculously. As I emerged from my huddle, I could see no damage.

Three homes and two barns were hit and sustained devastating damage. One couple was still heading to the basement when it hit, peeling off the top of their ranch house like a sardine can.

Sheet metal and insulation everywhere. Cattle killed. The people were all fine.

Just after I saw it, it must have leaped my neighbor’s house (sparing it completely) and then traveled down her wooded driveway, snapping and uprooting mature evergreens as it did. Two of her full-grown trees were found in the field across the road.

After we gratefully received the kids from the 1 hour late bus, we assessed the damage in our tree fields. We could see the path in the matted grass, but it must have lifted (or simply didn’t like eating less-mature evergreens!) as it went over the nursery stock. All of it was fine. Deciduous trees in a few of the fence lines and a giant willow tree in a creek bed were shattered. Our neighbor to the north of the fields lost chunks of roof and had shattered windows and downed trees.

Our bus driver hunts our land. He’d taken the day off to hunt. Chores and other distractions kept him from getting to the field, and then the rain came. He was waiting it out before heading here. Had he been in his tree stand when the tornado came through, he’d have been wrapped in a tangle of metal. We found the stand 200 yards from where it had been anchored. It was mangled.

As I thank God over and over for sparing us and our home and trees, I still can’t help but wonder how the tornadoes choose. It was a question uttered by my youngest the day after the storm. “How do we know the next one won’t miss us?” She internalizes a lot and after she simmers a bit, we’re careful to give her a release valve so she doesn’t explode. She was ready, so a gathered her up the the rocker and let cry and talk about it.

We acknowledged that her fear is logical and real and it’s natural to be scared of something so powerful. All we can do is be aware and prepare as best we can. Only the wind can truly know. Until then, we just go on and continue to be grateful for doing so.

(And any time life blows us away, we can ask our mommies to rock us and hug the tears away.)

A very happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

Julie Ford is a certified life coach, author, speaker, facilitator and trainer. She helps organizations support their high performers through parenting transitions. With one-on-one and group coaching, she helps her clients to define what matters most in their lives, and to realize what is and isn’t working. Collaboratively, they move through a customized plan to find more joy and less chaos in the everyday.

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