It was around 7 a.m. when a harsh buzzing alarm reverberated against the walls of our Orlando hotel room over spring break. Still, after walking 23,111 steps at Disney World the day before, even the alarm coming from my husband’s cellphone didn’t fully wake me up. My husband, who is legally deaf without his hearing aid, didn’t hear it either.
What did wake me up was the face of my frightened 6-year-old son only inches from my own nose, trying to stir me while whispering “Mommy. Mommy. MOMMY. Is that a tornado siren?”
Growing up in the South means tornado drills are second nature in schools. For a kid in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, tornadoes are an unfortunate part of life that is ingrained in life.
My son knows that our neighborhood was nearly destroyed when an EF-4 tornado tore a 1-mile wide gash across our city on April 27, 2011. Although my boy wasn’t even born yet — he was born three months later to the day — he’ll gladly tell strangers that he was in my belly when that awful tornado hit, and tell people about our giant trees that fell but amazingly spared out house.
He knows the story by heart about how our beloved cocker spaniel was left in the house and was never quite the same after the storms struck. He’ll tell people how we had to live in a hotel for a while, how the school where he now goes to kindergarten was heavily damaged, how there are areas across our town and near our home still barren, nearly seven years after that storm.
I guess you could say that the 2011 tornado is part of our family’s story, and therefore part of his.
But when he hears an alarm, any kind of alarm, he automatically worries that a tornado is on its way. When local weatherman James Spann came to visit his school last year, our son cried going to sleep that night and several nights after because he was afraid a storm was going to come. When he says his prayers at night, occasionally he’ll ask God for “no more tornadoes.”
And so when spring comes — tornado season — I brace myself. When days come like last week when we have tornado watches, I question how much I should tell my children about the forecast. I want them to be safe. I want them to know what to do. But I don’t want to scare them.
I thought about this last Monday as I waited with my kids for the morning bus to school. I decided, rather than tell them that bad weather was on its way, to instead ask them what they would do if they were at home during a tornado.
“Grab a bike helmet,” my 9-year-old daughter replied.
“Hide in the hallway,” my 6-year-old son added.
We took the conversation as an opportunity to brainstorm other “hiding” spots and things that could be done if we aren’t with them in a storm. But I stopped short of telling them that bad weather was on its way. I wanted to spare them that worry — worry that would come later when school was canceled by lunchtime.
Before my kids got on the bus, I told them I was glad they knew what to do in case of a storm.
“There’s not going to be any more tornadoes anyways,” my kindergartener told me, confidently. “I prayed about it.”
If only I had so much faith. Still, better to be prepared, even for the little ones.
— Lydia Seabol Avant writes The Mom Stop for The Tuscaloosa News in Alabama. Reach her at email@example.com.