Wednesday, July 08, 2015

I was burned out from exhaustion, buried in the hail, poisoned in the bushes and blown out on the trail

A couple of weeks ago, before the kids left for Mexico, I was sitting in my office at around 4:45 in the afternoon when I saw that the sky was turning blackish greenish brown.  It had been relatively mild before then, but in a matter of minutes, everything went dark, the wind started whipping sideways, and pellets of hail started hammering at the windows.  Then it started to dump rain, and suddenly there were flash flood warnings and rivers of water running down the street.

These are classic signs that a tornado may be on the way.

The kids were across the street at their summer camp, and when I saw the weather, I knew I had to head over there.  There was crazy rain and hail and a foot of water in the road, but Zeke is terrified of tornadoes, so I figured if the sirens started to go off and we had to shelter in place, better that I be there with him.  So I braved the elements and arrived at the YMCA bedraggled and with my clothes soaked up to my knees, but otherwise no worse for the wear.

As soon as I got there, the tornado sirens started to go off.  My kids, as well as the others who were still waiting for their parents to come pick them up, were already nervous, but at the sound of the siren they all visibly stiffened.  Zeke's eyes got really wide and his breathing became rapid and shallow - he was starting to panic.

"Mama, we're not going to be OK.  WE'RE NOT GOING TO BE OK!"

"We are going to be fine, honey.  I'm here and we're going to be just fine.  We're going to go downstairs to the basement and wait for the storm to pass."

But he couldn't calm down.  He was shaking and crying and scared.  I hugged him to me and tried to reassure him as best I could.

The camp counselors led us to the basement of the building, which is old and solid and has survived many storms in its 100 year history.  We sat on the floor of the hallway and waited.

A number of the littler kids were crying.  I brought them over to sit with me, and soon I had about 6 small children sitting in my lap or huddling on the edges.

"Are my parents going to die?  What if they're caught in the storm?"

"My puppy is outside.  Is she going to die?  She's really dumb and doesn't know where to go."

"What if my house gets hit?"

I tried to think of all my tricks to calm them down.  I gave them my phone to play with.  We sang some songs.  I assured them that their parents would know how to get themselves somewhere safe, and that everything was going to be fine.

I said, "look at the adults around you, including me - our biggest job right now is to keep you safe. Do we look worried?  No?  Then that means that you don't need to worry either.  When the grownups start to freak out, that's when you can freak out, but as long as we're calm, you can stay calm, too."

All of these things placated them somewhat.  But the truth was, they were going to be scared until the storm was over and their parents showed up and the skies were clear again.  Which they eventually were.

I have thought about that day a lot in the past two weeks.

Two Saturdays ago, J and his girlfriend took the kids to Mexico for a 2 week vacation.  I was nervous about agreeing to it, but ultimately decided that it was the reasonable thing to do.

I handed over their passports and loaned him a suitcase and said goodbye.  Then I went home and cried.

I have cried every day since.  It has felt like there was a tornado going on in my head and in my body.  My emotions have left me beaten and raw.  I have been so anxious I felt like I was having panic attacks - I even got my doctor to prescribe me some anti-anxiety meds to keep me from flying right off the rails.  I have been despondent and depressed.  I have been lonely beyond belief.  I have missed my children to the point of feeling physical pain as a result.

I have mourned the loss of time I will have with them.

Not to belabor the metaphor, but the past two weeks I've felt like those kids trying to keep it together during that tornado.  There have been times when I felt like I couldn't deal with what was going on in my life at all.  Then there would be interludes when I would get out of the house to have dinner with friends, or play bar trivia with a local Meetup group, or go to the pool and hang out with my neighbors.  Eventually things will calm down and I won't feel so panicked and unsettled.

Tomorrow my children will come back and I will be able to spend the evening with them.  Then the next morning I will leave for DC for the weekend for another India reunion.  As ever, I am beyond excited to see my friends, but it will be hard to be away from my kids.  But after I get back, I'll have 3 weeks with them, including a trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina with my family where we'll play Uno and swim in the pool and relax at the beach while trying to avoid being eaten by sharks.

And then we'll get back and have to start working on a new schedule - one that will give me more time to myself and more freedom to try to build a new life for myself, but less time with them.

I have to accept it.  It pains me to accept it, but I have to accept it.  I have to be a grownup about it.

Even if being a grownup sucks sometimes.

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