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The Storm Closet, And What I Learned There

Something’s beeping.
Something’s beeping that shouldn’t be.

I pry my eyes open and search for the noise, finally realizing
it’s Cora’s monitor. But the monitor only beeps when it
loses its base signal, so what’s going on? What time is it,
anyway? I look at my clock and see it’s out. Ah,
power’s out. Mystery solved.

But if the power’s out, why are strobe lights going off in
the room? I swing out of bed, grabbing the emergency flashlight by
my bed. And then a third question hits me – why is someone
throwing pebbles at our window?

My brain finally catches up with my senses, and I realize our
windows are banging fiercely in the wind. The hail is assaulting
the window panes, and the lightning’s flashing too fast for
us to figure out which thunder crack goes with which lightning
bolt. My husband and I look at each other, and fear starts to snake
in my belly. I look out our bedroom windows and see our pear trees,
nearly horizontal. I see the sky flashing back and forth between
pale white and sickly green. And that’s when I know.

We both grew up in Texas, and learned to
duck and cover during tornado drills before we could read or write.
We knew we were moving back into them, and felt prepared: before
even unpacking our dishes, we’d picked out our designated
“storm room” – the most insulated, structurally
protected spot in the house. I’d begun filling it with toys
and battery-operated radios, but still had most of that on my to-do
list. Looks like I’d waited a bit too long, now.

As we stare at each other, motionless, the power comes back on and
Maddie’s screams are heard through her monitor. We realize
the storm must have awakened her with its ferocity and she was
huddling in bed, frightened. “Right,” Brian said.
“I’d better go comfort Maddie.” And as he leaves
the room, the coward in me cries, But who will comfort me?

I realize I’m still standing there with my Maglight clenched
in my fist, facing the windows as if bracing myself to tackle the
storm head-on. The heavy flashlight’s my go-to weapon of
choice when nightly noises startle me awake: it illuminates the
night, and comes in handy for beating an intruder (or bear) over
the head. But as I watch the 80-mile-an-hour wind howl at our
12-foot-high wall of windows, I know the flashlight’s
worthless against the tenacious storm whose tendrils are already
trying to smash open our windows, pry off our roof; and as the wind
screams its rage, I feel impotent.

Our television is turned on, and an earnest man in rumpled
shirtsleeves tells us we’re under a tornado warning, to seek
shelter and stay away from windows. As we look at the radar, I see
five spinning circles over our city. “Are those lightening
strikes?” Brian asks hopefully, even as the voiceover informs
us we’ve got five spiraling funnel clouds above our city that
are lazily, capriciously, trying to decide whether or not
they’re going to touch down.

Which is when we realize we’ve got to move, and fast.

In unspoken agreement, Brian and I split up; he heads to
Maddie’s room as I make my way to Cora’s, flashlight
still in hand. Ever the tornado veteran, I grab my pillow as I go
(Don’t forget, kids: cover that neck to protect it from
flying glass!) I’m shaking a bit and give myself the
slap-in-the-face peptalk as I go. You know the one- you’ve
done it, too. It goes like this: “Look, lady, you’re
the mom. It’s up to you. So just shut up and do what needs to
be done and fall apart later.”

It’s only when I burst into Cora’s room and see her
sleeping face that I question what we’re doing: it’s 4
a.m. and we’re about to wake up our daughters for a disaster
that may or may not come. Is waking her worth it? I think about the
hours of crying and sleeplessness that will follow; I think of the
subsequent day I’ll have of exhaustion and burning eyes. I
look at her again, and pick her up.

Cora wakes up a bit and limply drapes herself around me in a sleepy
necklace, burrowing in, asking no questions. As I head down the
stairs I hear Brian behind me speaking lowly to Maddie. I
can’t make out the words, but his tone is soothing and she
seems unconcerned. We open the hall closet and crawl into the empty
space left for just this purpose.

I sit against one wall, Cora in my lap. Now fully awake, she stares
owlishly around, unblinking, processing everything. Brian heads
back out to chase down the cat and returns cheerfully, a ready
smile for Maddie as she begins to look uncertain. Maddie folds
herself into my side and is silent for a few moments. Then she
looks at me and says, “Is that pillow for me, Mommy?”

I look down and see my pillow still clutched on my lap. My one
pillow. For me. I’ve still got the intruder-beating
flashlight, but didn’t even think about protecting
anyone’s neck but my own. I look over at Brian, and see a
stack of several pillows around him and am ashamed. I gaze at
Maddie’s still, small face turned trustingly towards me and
say, “Of course it’s for you, honey.” She nods
– she assumed as much, after all – and wilts onto my
lap, Silky tucked up in her face.

After a few minutes, Cora begins to realize she’s awake, and
the whimpering starts. I hold off nursing, trying to wait until
it’s all over so she can nurse back to sleep, and Cora
acquiesces with bad grace, giving up the complaining but burrowing
almost punishingly against me. Cora’s whining has stirred
Maddie, who now wants to know what’s going on. Brian manages
to answer all her questions calmly and truthfully, and with as
little alarm as possible. Maddie accepts his answer, and we wait
out the tornado warning uneventfully, trooping back to bed
forty-five minutes later.

As I sit rocking Cora back to sleep for an hour afterwards (for
Cora is a tougher sell than Maddie - she can smell my fear, takes
on my skittishness, and isn't buying my false reassurances), I
have plenty of time to reflect on our parenting performances. I am
proud of my husband and how well he has done. I am fairly pleased
with myself, even as I am grateful that we are judged in such
situations by our actions, not our instincts. Parenting, for the
past hour or so, has been an act of will, a conscious swallowing of
self and digging for something deeper, working for something
bigger. My moments of selfishness – my near-panic as Brian
ran out of the room to comfort Maddie, my complete disregard for
anyone but myself as I grab only one pillow, even my hesitation at
waking Cora as I anticipated several upcoming hours of lost sleep,
all shame me, make me vow to be a better parent. And I am glad, as
I said, that my daughters see the fruit of my actions, the
rightness of what I do in spite of my desires, and know
that, for at least one more night, I have not let them down. I have
cared for them and kept them safe.

It’s not until the next day (and our house is remarkably
unscathed, for which we are grateful – there are trees and
powerlines down all around us, and a neighbor’s full-sized
trampoline tossed over a fence) that I realize how closely my life
as a parent mirrors my walk as a Christian. As I raced down the
stairs, clutching my precious bundle, I said psalms of praise,
forcing my head to praise God even as my heart didn’t want
to. We’re told to praise God everywhere, and in everything,
and I willfully put my trust in Him even as my instinct cried,
“Save yourself!” I strive to serve Him and do the right
thing, even as I am tempted on an hourly basis.

I know that God, unlike Maddie, sees both my heart and my actions.
And I believe that, in spite of the struggle, it pleases Him.

Next time, I pray that my heart will more closely line up with my
actions, that I’ll be instinctively less selfless. But I am
comforted with the knowledge that regardless, I’ll be there
for my daughters and take care of them.

I’m a Mommy- it’s what we do.


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