Thursday, May 30, 2013

May 20: Day Of

Speaking from the heart, as I always do with this blog, I can admit to you that I haven't even known where to begin. When I step out of this lovely town that I was raised in and currently live in, and then tell people elsewhere that I live in Moore, I can see it in their eyes and hear it in their voices: "Oooh, you live in MOORE...." This is now followed by a barrage of questions, such as, "Were you impacted? Was your house damaged? Do you know people who lost their homes? Do you know people that died?" The answers to these questions, respectively, are yes; no; yes; no-but I know people whose friend or family member died. But the "yes" and "no" just can't even begin to sum it up. Most of us here have been wells of emotion, sometimes capable of talking for hours upon hours about the tornado last Monday, and sometimes not able to utter a word because we just don't know what to say. Sometimes I don't even know what I'm feeling. I know that we all have varying days here; Sunday, for instance, I remarked that I felt better than I had since the tornado actually hit, just to hear BJ reply, "Really? For some reason I feel worse today." I also know that we're all in it together, because that's how people in Moore are.

At times I have felt overcome by all of the terribleness that I have seen, and at times I have felt overwhelmed by all of the goodness that I have seen as well. Because I use this blog as a diary of sorts, I'm clearly going to use this as a forum for my own processing and observations, so feel free to read along or turn your attention elsewhere as you need. Breaking it down into chunks seems like the only way to surmount the insurmountable when it comes to all of the cleanup here, and I'm going to take a similar approach with my own account on this blog. Today I'll tell our story of the day of the tornado, May 20, 2013.

It wasn't a normal day for us. If it was a normal Monday, I would have been home with the boys. About 50 of 52 Mondays a year we aren't on a vacation somewhere, so Moore would have been our location. I certainly would have been at home because tornadoes were expected, and the local meteorologists had forewarned everyone to be in a safe place by 2PM. For us, that is at home because our next-door neighbors have an underground shelter and have generously volunteered us a guaranteed spot until we get our own shelter installed. As it was, BJ, the boys, and I were returning from a weekend vacation in Minnesota. We had left Heidi and Billy's house at 10:45AM and were planning to make it to Kansas City for the night. As we were approaching Ames, Iowa, a text rang in on my phone. I glanced down to my leg, where my phone was propped, and quickly read this text from BJ's mom: "Large tornado at 149th and May." I immediately tossed the phone to BJ and said, "Call your mom. Now." and repeated the text. 149th and May isn't exactly next door, but it's our side of town and way too close for comfort. BJ called Susan and began getting the scoop: it had just recently lowered, it was headed east-northeast into the metro, it was aiming for Moore. Beyond that, Susan couldn't say much because it was all so confusing as it was happening, and even the forecasters weren't sure which direction it was going at times. Frustrated, I picked up the phone and called my dad. Keep in mind, my dad spent an entire career in a law enforcement position; he was a rescue worker in the OKC bombing, he was in charge of recovery of bodies from the Eufaula bridge collapse, the guy has seen it all and he's always level-headed. He was level-headed when he answered the phone alright, but the tension in his voice was incredibly obvious as he was trying to make his way home to Moore without getting too close in on the storm. "Last I just heard it was just south of 4th and Santa Fe. Baby, it's headed down 4th street right for both of our houses." I took a measured breath in and said, "Okay." What else could I say? There was nothing to be done at that point. Dad promised to call as soon as he could.

I hung up with him and talked with BJ in the passenger seat. We shortly discussed the strong possibility that we were about to lose our home, that my parents were about to lose their home, and that we were both going to lose our dogs, who were at my parents' home. BJ reminded me that this was a best-case scenario for our families though: no one was home, so it couldn't hurt us. I didn't realize at the time that my sister had made her way into Moore to get my nephew, and that they were both on lock-down in his school. I tried to call my brother and sister but couldn't get through; phone lines were already jammed or blown down. So I called Sommer and said, "Congratulations, you just earned the best-friend role of talking to me until I hear from my family." Sommer lives in Massachusetts and had no idea what was going on until I told her. We talked for probably 15 minutes, me shaking the entire time (I'm actually shaking a bit uncontrollably as I type this), but gradually began settling down as I assumed we had lost our home, and certainly our neighborhood, and began accepting that possibility in my mind.

Calls from family members finally began trickling in. I learned from my brother that the tornado had been headed directly east, straight for our home, for about two miles before suddenly taking an abrupt turn to the north about a quarter of a mile from our house. I still wasn't sure what it meant for our house because the tornado was at least a half-mile wide at the time, but at least I could begin tracking it in my mind. He told us that it missed my parents' house to the north and that the dogs were fine. We learned later just how much they missed it by: 800 feet. He also shared the most important news, which was that my sister and nephew, who I didn't know had been potentially in harm's way, were a few miles north of where it crossed Bryant and were perfectly safe. And then right before my neighbor Julie's phone went down for good, I talked to her long enough to learn that our house had made it. She didn't know at the time how close it had come, but I could hear the shock in her voice that our houses were still standing. She described it as "intense" in the shelter: garage door shaking violently, what sounded like constant loud thunder coming from the ground, the drop in air pressure. It was close alright---missed us also by just 800 feet. Winds at our house had to have been over 100 mph. Our grill was damaged beyond repair, but nothing major was lost at our house. We knew our neighbors weren't so lucky, and they certainly weren't. A quick jaunt up our street and you'll find shattered windows and holes in roofs. Just a little further you see nothing but slabs with heaps of rubble on top, no walls standing. The northern half of the park just alongside our neighborhood is in smithereens. The playground had become a mangled mess of automobiles, houses, sheet metal, bicycles, laundry baskets, tires, trees, dolls, boards, chunks of pavement, children's motorized vehicles, and everything else under the sun. The trees were gone, the picnic pavilion was gone, it was just gone gone gone. BJ and I didn't know the scope of it for the next couple of hours. As we pulled into Kansas City I got a picture text of our park showing the state of it, and I knew for sure it was bad. I already knew it was going to be bad though; not only have I lived through an F5 tornado in Moore before, but I had also heard from about 15 loving and concerned friends and family members on the phone that it was "BAD." "Jenny," they said, "prepare yourself. This is really, really bad." Finally I unloaded on someone, I can't remember who, and cried in exasperation, "I get it! I know it's bad! It's bad! I get it! It's bad! This isn't doing me any good!" Add in missing children and a rising death toll, and it was all we could do to not come unraveled on the road.

We checked into the hotel that night and the clerk at the Comfort Inn had the lobby television on CNN, which of course was covering Moore. This was my first chance to see images, and I told the clerk that my neighborhood had been destroyed. Someone else overheard and soon they were both asking me questions as though I had been there; I told them what I knew and that we were just trying to get home. In bed that night, I didn't fall asleep until after 2AM. All I could think about were awful imagined scenarios in which I was trying to beat out the tornado, but I couldn't get both kids into the shelter in time and lost one of them. That was the first of several nights that I avoided bedtime because I couldn't help but lie there awake, horrified by the productions of my own mind. Ten days later I've mostly stopped doing that, but it replays all night long in my dreams. Literally, all night long I dream of tornadoes, picking through debris, coming out of rubble, outrunning a storm. It won't always be like this, but I need to keep figuring it out from here...

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Tornado Update and Pictures

I'm tired and headed to bed soon, but wanted to post some pics that I took today of our home, neighborhood, and adjacent park. All of these places are within easy walking distance of our house, like an eighth to about a quarter of a mile. Lots of recovery and rebuilding ahead, but I can't tell you how encouraged I already feel by what we saw today. People are in good spirits, and we even saw residents of the most ravaged street in our area all joining together for grilled burgers on a lunch break in the middle of their street!

Basically, the update is that we were able to get to our home today to get some things. We have water now but no power still, so we are continuing to stay elsewhere. Soon we'll be moving back and readjusting to our new environment. There are absolutely no structural problems with our house. Hours of cleanup is ahead for us, but we are only out a grill, a bird feeder, and the contents of our refrigerator. We are so lucky. Silas is handling it beautifully, conceptualizing it as a big storm that caused many "broken" things and "boo boos," and he is already excited to watch the clean-up process. The construction vehicles are everywhere, and he loudly has stated, "That excavator is helping to clean the play place!" As a family we decided to spend some time in the park this weekend on a clean-up mission, doing our part to heal a park that we have so grown to love.

Thank you all a million times for your love and support. The promised pictures:

The playground at our park

Look closely: nearly the entire house is gone, but the mugs and plates are still calmly placed on their shelves in the cabinet.

 Yep, that's a guard rail hanging from that power line.

One of the debris piles in our creek.

Debates are going in our that a surfboard or a giant chain saw blade sticking out of that house?

And here are a couple of shots of our deck and patio. Covered in muck and debris, but nothing that a little elbow grease won't erase!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Trying Our Best to Raise Them Right

I'm a mom of two young boys, and I truly feel like I am in my element raising boys. I dress comfortably, wear very little makeup, am infatuated with sports, love camping and the outdoors, abhor frills and the color pink, and have fallen easily into a supporter of construction vehicles, trains, and kung fu. I'll be honest with you: the thought of having a little girl to raise is kind of daunting to me. I truthfully find myself turned off by things "loudly feminine" as my friend Adrienne put it; if I raise a girl, she'll be destined to be a Scout Finch. She'll probably get muddy in the creek, she'll cheer loudly for the Thunder and OSU (NOT in a little cheerleader's outfit if I have anything to say about it!), her hair bows will get dusty in a box because I'll never put those things on her head, and she'll run races and play soccer instead of attending dance classes (acknowledging, once again, if I have anything to say about it). The whole idea just gets me a little antsy to buck the system so much. I'm sure the truth is that there are complexities to raising girls that you don't really have to deal with too much when raising boys, but this of course runs both ways, and I think I sometimes fail to acknowledge that.

Even though we are not raising girls, BJ and I both feel that we are contributing to the feminist cause in the way that we are raising our sons. Silas and George will grow up seeing a father who loves his wife, treats her as an equal at all times, and never refers to himself as the leader in the home. They will be taught throughout the years that girls have every bit as much to contribute as boys, and BJ and I can only hope that what our boys internalize is primarily what they learn from our home and not what they see in other bigoted places. I smile just thinking of my sons as adult men someday, treating their partners as loving equals and advocating for those with quieter voices. I only hope that we're doing it right.

Emma and Amelia Earhart

My friend Heidi HK posted a blog yesterday that positively melted my heart. I read this post and looked at the images of this strong and lovely five-year-old girl named Emma as she emulated some of the world's finest female role models, and I suddenly felt a peace and even (gasp!) excitement at the possibility that my little growing Mowgli could be a girl. I shared the post with BJ and said, "If it's a girl, we're going to be okay. I suddenly feel as though I can do this!" and he responded with, "Very cool. We could do lots of things like that." The idea behind the post entitled "Not Just a Girl," written by photographer Jaime Moore, was that she wanted to do a photo shoot for her daughter Emma's fifth birthday. In researching ideas for this, she came upon ideas for making one's daughter look like princess after princess; Moore was unimpressed and instead chose five historical female role models from the real world, one for each year of her daughter's life, and she designed and executed photographs with her daughter dressed as each of these amazing women.  Beneath the photos she included thoughts from each role model about the nature of women and/or their role in this world.

Emma and Coco Chanel

 I'll link to it again: please read this post! It will take you 30 seconds and, if you're like me, it will bring a smile to your heart and restore your faith in the universe (and perhaps, more importantly, in your own abilities as a teacher to young children).

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

To Silas

To my older son, my dearest Silas,

Happy birthday, my love. It almost seems futile to be writing a post to you, because I know even as I start that words cannot describe the love and emotions that I have for you. I, who was never sure I wanted to be a mother, fell deeply and irrevocably in love with you the morning after you were born. The day of your birth was such a whirlwind, and I was overwhelmed with your arrival, my new responsibilities, my fatigue, and all of our loving visitors. That next morning though, Monday, May 3, 2010, I woke before your daddy did and I saw you sleeping peacefully in your hospital bassinet, and crawled out of bed toward you thinking, "Let's see what this is all about." And then I picked you up and held you skin-to-skin all day long, and by the end of that morning I knew that I had found my passion for life: being a mother. Your mother. The three years since that day have been the very best of my life.

You love your family and you have grown up in many social situations, since your daddy and I have frequently surrounded you with social activities, lunches, and friends over ever since you were a newborn. Your day is made when friends or family come to dinner, and you can't wait to show them your latest toys and your bedroom. You are insanely in love with your grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousin Sebbie, and those are the people that you talk about the most. You have begun having delightful imaginary conversations with each of them, and you share those conversations with us. Your daddy and I love to see the way that your mind works. I have no doubt that you're a gifted little boy, and your memory and knowledge base floors me sometimes. You have known all of your colors for nearly a year and a half! You can count to 100, with a little bit of help on transitions from 69 to 70 and so forth. You recognize numbers by site through the twenties. You have known your alphabet for over a year and you easily recognize all of the letters. You have begun applying that knowledge to existing words, and now we frequently hear you sounding out words and making proclamations like, "Gorilla. That starts with G!" You can spell your name out loud and recognize it by sight, and you and I have been working on writing a few letters lately as well. You are working hard on your 'S,' and you are proud of yourself for mastering the 'I.' You have been in 20 of the 50 states, which isn't a bad start in your first three years. Someday your daddy and I plan to take you to Europe and Australia.

Silas, you are passionate about "construction vehicles," as you like to call them. Here is a video of you naming just a few of the ones you know.

We can't drive anywhere without you shouting detailed accounts from the backseat about the excavators (your favorite), bulldozers, impact hammers, front end loaders, backhoes, skid steers, and graders that you see, along with what color each is and if they're working or "on a lunch break." You just received your coveted feller buncher for your birthday, and you have slept with it in your bed every night since your party. You also love going to Thunder games, and you always clap the loudest for Rumble the Bison and Westbrook, whom you refer to as "Russell."  You love riding your tricycle and the motorized backhoe that Papa bought you, and I have sadly realized we will never be able to store this backhoe in Nana and Papa's garage as promised because you must have it every day at your disposal, which means it has to live in my living room. Your favorite color is still yellow, your favorite letter is now 'S,' your favorite food is waffles, and your favorite number is '3.' You love to talk about favorites of things, and when the conversation lulls you can be known to say, "So....mommy, what is your favorite (insert category here: construction vehicle, number, door, tree, animal, etc.)?"

Silas, I love you with all of my being. I love your soft, smooth skin. I love the way you cut your eyes to the far right or left when you are considering how to respond to a question. I love your inquisitive mind, your eagerness to be outside, and your love for George, which is so obvious. I love sitting with you and teaching you new things, and I love your willingness to learn. I love how you are battling to overcome your shyness, cautiously approaching strangers to say hello---all your idea! I love baking with you, sharing ideas with you, getting kisses from you (which you readily give), and hearing from others that you are my carbon copy. I love reading books with you and combing my fingers through your hair while we watch Bob the Builder and eat fruit snacks before your bedtime. Sometimes I even enjoy your brief tantrums when it's time to go to bed, because your face is so funny and your responses are so time-sensitive: I know that someday you won't stamp your foot and cry, so I better enjoy it now.

Silas, please know that your daddy, Georgie, and I think that you're the best big brother around. You're my firstborn, my awakening, the one who altered me from the inside out, the one who gave meaning for me to the Decemberist lyrics, "And all the stars came crashing 'round as I laid eyes on what I'd found." Little boy, you are the loveliest of lovelies. Thank you for being my son. Happy third birthday.



For those interested, below is a video performance of Colin Meloy, lead singer of the Decemberists, playing "The Crane Wife." It's the most beautiful ballad I know, and I've blogged about it before (see here). It is the inspiration from which I pulled the above quote. Part 1 is my favorite, the first five minutes of the video.