Weekly Update

Bracing for Impact

Coming from Minnesota, a land of no natural disasters except for the errant tornado or occasional flooding, I’ve been keeping a close eye out for hurricanes ever since we moved to Florida.

Now what is interesting about hurricanes is that they can be predicted when they are over a week away, unlike tornados. And while you know for certain a hurricane is going to hit somewhere, you don’t know where that might be. You could be directly in the path– or, it could turn and hit someone else, or it could be predicted to hit elsewhere, and then smack you anyway.

A week ahead of Ian, we knew he was coming, and we knew he looked like a bad storm, but that was all of the intel we had. Or maybe I should say, we had a large amount of intel, but it was unclear how much of it was useful information.

For those who have not lived through a hurricane, the best analogy I have is birth. You know you’re pregnant, and you know that a baby will exit your body at some point in time, but you have no idea when or how that child will exit your body.

While we have lived here, there have been many hurricanes predicted to impact us. The closest we got was a small tropical storm last year. But this time around, the locals were eyeing the storm nervously. And when school got canceled ahead of the storm, we knew it was a real threat.

And just like during pregnancy, with the news of the impending hurricane, I began nesting, cleaning the house from top to bottom. I got caught up on laundry and moved all of our outdoor furniture and pots inside.

Our last dinner at Fish House, the night before it was destroyed

The night before Ian made landfall, tornado warnings blared and the weather forecasters were in blissful states, frantically tracking tornados and using all of their different weather models to make predictions on where Ian would make landfall.

And I was so exhausted from all of my nesting that I slept through it all. Thank goodness Chad was awake enough to monitor the storms.

The next morning the wind picked up, contorting palm trees and ripping out bushes. We hunkered down at our neighbors’ house, given that they have hurricane shutters and we do not. Right after we settled in, the power went out.

Hurricane Force Winds
The road out of our community

If you haven’t had the pleasure of spending time in a home that has hurricane shutters up, it is basically like sitting in a cave, with no view of what is happening outside.

We sat in the dark with four young, bored, kids. Hurricanes always sound so exciting, but this experience was monotonous. We entertained them with magnetiles, flashlights, and snacks.

The storm raged until around 9pm. We brought the girls back to our dark home and got ready for bed by flashlight. We woke up to silence and gray skies.

An eerie view when we finally came home.

The thing that will always stand out to me about this experience is that despite the significant impact Hurricane Ian left, the devastation, loss of lives and homes, the sun continued to rise and set. And that one constant has been enough to ground ourselves on.

In the first three days after the hurricane, we relied on the sun’s light during the day and were reminded to sleep when it set. The sunrises and sunsets were made up of muted colors, as if offering an apology for the eruption of the uncharacteristic and catastrophic behavior of the sky.

A post-Ian sunrise

The other thing that I have been reminded of during this experience is that sometimes the darkness accentuates the light.

Because no one had phone service, people showed up on our doorstep, the most welcome kind of unannounced. Neighbors brought hot coffee, chicken nuggets made off of generator power, and ice. Had it been during any other time, I would have been mortified to open the door, in my often bra-less, unshowered, grunge look, surrounded by a disaster of a house.

There was a vulnerability to it, not being able to hide the fact that I didn’t have my sh*t together. But we were all in the same boat.

Two days after the storm, a pharmacist showed up at our house in his truck to hand deliver my migraine medications. I think I encountered an angel.

One night we walked outside and were stunned by the vast number of stars illuminating the pitch-black sky, surrounding the sliver of a crescent moon. We soaked in a view that would not be possible in a neighborhood with power and lights.

But while that view was magnificent, I would have gladly traded it for power. Each night we slept in our family room, the coolest room in the house. We had weak battery-powered fans strategically positioned to provide the best airflow. We would wake up in the middle of the night when fan batteries died and groggily replace them.

We were lucky to get power the Saturday after the storm. With power, we also got phone and internet service. We were finally able to update all of our concerned people, and for the first time, we were able to watch the news.

While we had heard plenty of rumors about what was destroyed, it didn’t really register until we saw the footage of our favorite beaches, completely gone.

The skies have been full of rescue and coast guard helicopters, a sobering reminder that all is not well. I’ve been filled with survivor guilt, wondering why we came away unscathed while others lost everything.

I feel guilt at being able to return to an almost normal level of life. Sure, the grocery stores don’t have produce or meat, and school is shut indefinitely, but we can still bike to the park, and laugh, and come home to a safe home with power.

The empty produce section

I am not alone in feeling this way- almost every person I’ve talked to has expressed similar thoughts. When I texted one of my best friends about it, she nailed the response:

“Maybe take a Saturday or Sunday this weekend and go volunteer somewhere, but I think there’s something to be said for just keeping your family working properly during this time.”

I went for my first run after the hurricane yesterday. Today, I plan to floss my teeth for the first time. Life was shaken up for a bit there, and I lost all of my routines. I’m back in a place where I can slowly re-establish them, but I’m trying to give myself some grace to return to normalcy at my own pace.

Okay, maybe normalcy is a big ask. I’ll just aim to return to my previous level of weirdness.

We are so grateful to everyone who showed up at our doorstep, let us into their home (thanks, Pauls!), checked in with us, and provided support from afar. You know who you are. Thank you!

Weekly Update

A Letter to the New Mama

My sister just had her first baby; and so, I feel the sisterly need to share a little wisdom.

Dear Mama,

Yes, you! This is your new name for the rest of your life. At first it will be cute, then it will be annoying, and then it will go back to endearing. No matter what media, society, friends, enemies or anyone else tries to convince you of, you are perfectly capable of your role as a parent.

Regardless of how that baby exits your body, you are a champ. I personally believe they should give out trophies. “A FULL GROWN BABY EXITED MY BODY” will be the inscription. Better yet, a license plate. Instead of, “Save the sea turtles,” it will say, “Save my sanity.”

Parenthood lie #1: “It’s the most natural thing ever! Women have been giving birth since the beginning of time!”

I found this in my photo archives, around the time I had Alice. I have nothing else to say.

I’m here to tell you that there is nothing natural about the birth process and it feels like a very bad idea (see photo above for further proof). This is on my list of things to talk to God about when I croak.

Once the baby is out of your body, society has determined that while a pregnant body is adorable, a postpartum body is not.

This is BS. Your body is amazing. You literally grew this child from one to TWO TRILLION cells. Then you pushed the full grown baby out of a 10cm hole. It is nothing short of a miracle. So, yes, your body might have changed a bit. Maybe irreversibly, but also, beautifully.

Next on the agenda?

Food. Not for you, silly. THE BABY. Remember, everyone has shifted their opinionated focus from your pregnant belly to your child and how you are parenting them.

There are two options. Breast milk & formula. Whiskey is no longer advisable, unfortunately. Both are great AND your kid will turn out fine whichever way you go. The decision you make will not change your greatness as a parent. By the time your kid goes off to kindergarten, no one will know whether your kid was breast fed or formula fed. And quite frankly, no one will care.

Instead of pregnancy horror stories, people will now share breastfeeding horror stories. The time they got a huge golf ball sized clot in their boob that someone had to massage out and it hurt like the dickens. Or the time they filled their freezer with extra breast milk only to learn that their baby refused to drink it. Or when their child grew teeth and literally bit their nipple off. (Just kidding. I don’t know if this one has actually happened but it was my greatest fear. I can’t google it for fear of what I will learn.)

As you’ve noticed, since becoming pregnant, everyone has an opinion about your life as a parent. What parenting style are you going to use? Free Range? Crunchy? Attachment?

I prefer a combination survival of the fittest and leave me alone parenting.

I could go on and on about all of the dilemmas you will face and be judged over. Cloth diapers or disposable? To work or stay at home? Whether or not to bribe with fruit snacks. How you potty train the kid. To sleep train or not. Co-sleeping?

The great news is that you are now the parent. You get to make the decisions. It’s not up to the opinionated mass of humans who creep their way into the crevices of your brain.

Parenthood lie #2: Everything will be okay because you are the expert on your kid.

WRONG. Whoever coined this phrase couldn’t have been a parent.

According to my five year old, I am NEVER right. As the expert on my children, I cannot explain why they are so weird. I do not know why they do the things they do. I am not an expert, let me assure you.

It is terrifying when you leave the hospital and they load you in the car with your baby, calling, “good luck!” as they slam your door. I wanted to zombie crawl back up to the postpartum floor, plaster my face to the window at the nurses station, and creepily ask, “Can I live here forever?”

After a bit of time, you will learn to read your babies cues. And by this, I mean, you will learn to read their screams. At least that’s what they say. Personally the best I got at cue reading was, “My child is crying. Something must be wrong. What something is, I have no idea.”

The good news is that even though you have absolutely no clue what you are doing with your baby, you are the expert on YOU. Contrary to popular opinion, you don’t need to be a martyr to be a good parent. Your kid will be happier if YOU are happier.

So if your boobs don’t have it in them to breast feed, don’t. If your house is overtaken by an explosion of baby crap and you don’t have it in you to clean and organize all of it, don’t. Get as much sleep as you can. Find people you trust to give you a break when you need one and watch that cute kid of yours. If people offer help, take it. Find mom friends who are honest- who aren’t going to feed you BS about how perfect their child is and what a clean house they live in.

Stop beating yourself up for not being enough. You. Are. Plenty.

When the baby arrives, you will be engulfed in a massive life change. Your life went from doing normal adult things to obsessively tracking how many wet diapers your little genius baby produces. Your life will be dictated by a schedule of when the next feed is due and naps. You’ll find yourself in a dark room, holding a baby who will only go to sleep if you do squats on repeat for 90 minutes. And you’ll wonder, “how did I get here?”

I can repeatedly tell you how magical and life changing it is once you have that baby in your arms. How one second you’re you and the next you are a completely different person. But until you have that baby in your arms, you won’t get it.

Even if your baby cries all day, at the end of it, you’ll stare at that little terrorist sleeping peacefully in the crib on your chest and nowhere else and wonder how you got so lucky.

Like most rewarding experiences, parenthood is a lot of work. It is draining, never ending, crying on the kitchen floor kind of work. It is exhausting, hair pulling, cringe worthy, down in the trenches kind of work.

It will make you question everything you’ve ever known. Undoubtedly, it will bring you to your knees.

Some days you’ll wonder if you made a mistake. You’ll debate about if you have it in you to put them up for adoption.

This is the section of the letter when I’m supposed to tell you it’s worth it.

It’s worth it.

I wish there was a way to capture accurately why this is. Because as we all know, mathematically it doesn’t add up. If you bring out a balance scale, it might tip heavier on the end of poop explosions and temper tantrums.

One day, your kid will smile at you for the first time. Holidays will regain the magic they held when you were a child. You will witness so many firsts. You will be reminded that life truly is a miracle.

You will sit in awe as you watch them take their first step. Annunciate their first word. String together their first sentence. You will watch their personality blossom. You will learn things about yourself that you never realized until you watch them mirror your phrases and routines.

The days will be long, but the years short.

One day you’ll realize that their cute potbelly disappeared and that they no longer have dimples on their hands. You’ll notice with a start that your “baby” is no longer a baby.

And somehow, just like that, you will have survived the phase of parenting a baby. You will look back and wonder how you did it. You’ll wish you had given yourself a little more grace and a little less beating yourself up over cluttered countertops.

You will have mad respect for your younger, sleep deprived self who kept moving forward because it was the only way to go.

Buckle up, mama. It’s going to be one heck of a ride.