This is our fourth hurricane season in the South, and once again an evacuation order appears to be imminent. (Why can’t we just have fall?)
Evacuation and hurricane preparedness are never fun for anyone, but it takes on an added degree of difficulty for first responder families. In short, it’s absolutely miserable.
If you stay, you’re on your own and your first responder is worrying about you on top of trying to do his/her job. If you leave, you’re leaving without them and worrying yourself sick hoping they’re OK. But when you throw kids in the mix, there are even more variables to consider.
I’ve found there’s simply no way to assure a child that their parent will be alright when they’ve been listening to everyone from the cashier at the grocery store to the man on television act like it’s the end of the world. How do you tell a child they have to leave because it’s not safe to stay, but then tell them you’re leaving their parent behind? Not a fun situation.
Having done both the evacuation thing and the hunkering-down-to-ride-it-out thing by myself with five children, I have found a few things that I think are good for helping little ones through the process.
*As a side note, all these things also apply for time away for training, the academy or deployments!*
Spend Time Together Before
If at all possible, try to spend a little extra time together before the recall starts. It’s no secret that kids spell love T-I-M-E. Seeing you stressed and panicked makes them stressed and panicked. Let them see you happy and calm. Play a game, read a book, go for a walk, snuggle a little more before bed. Any little bit of time helps and gives them a good distraction in the days leading up to the separation- for both of you!
Let Them Help
It’s tempting to just try to keep them out from underfoot while you’re preparing for the storm, but it can help them feel more in control if you find ways to let them help. Ask the older ones to entertain younger ones, let them help pack their clothes, have them put snacks in a box. Make sure they hear that what they’re doing is necessary and helpful and tell them how much you appreciate them contributing.
Recordable Story Books/Animals
My parents live in another state and some of my kids’ favorite things are stories and stuffed animals with their voices recorded on them. Helps them feel close even from far away. If you don’t have either of those, try taking a video of their parent reading them a story and let them watch it each night before bed. You can find a recordable version of Under The Same Moon HERE.
Try to Keep to a Routine
It seems impossible, but routines help kids feel safe. Try to keep as many pieces of their routine intact as possible. Try to have the same bedtime or read the same book or whatever you would normally do at home. It’s likely that the majority of your routine will be shot, and that’s OK, at least try to keep things consistent for the circumstances. So, if you have been letting them listen to their parent read a book right before bed, don’t put them to bed without it if you can help it. It might not be their normal routine, but if they feel like they have something they can expect to take place it can give them the much-needed reassurance that everything is under control.
A Special Item to Keep Safe
Along the same lines of letting them help, giving them something special to hold onto and “keep safe” while you’re apart can be really helpful for kids. It could be anything from a teddy bear to a small trinket. Just tell them you want them to have it and ask them to keep it safe for you until you’re all back home. Being put in a protector role themselves helps kids feel braver.
This is one we used during deployments and while he was at the academy but it would be awesome here too. Keep a jar of Hershey Kisses and every night you’re apart give them a kiss from mommy/daddy before bed. Chocolate makes everything better.
Daddy Box (Mommy Box)
We actually started this tradition when daddy was on patrol and missed a lot of fun stuff working. The kids would write him letters (or draw him pictures for those too little to write) any time they wanted to tell him something but couldn’t right then. Then all the letters would go into the Daddy Box. When Daddy got home he’d be able to read all the letters and see all the pictures and they would have a way to remember all the fun stuff they wanted to tell him about. The kids loved this. Just grab a few sheets of paper and a box of colored pencils. (Crayons will either melt in your car, go through the laundry or be eaten by the dog…don’t ask me how I know.)
The very best thing you can do for your kids is pray with them and be their calm. It’s impossible not to worry, but try to focus on the little eyes in front of you. Our first responders are doing their job…and they’re counting on us to do ours and be the hero for our children. Stay strong, stay safe, and know this too shall pass.