Multicultural Family

Dark storm

November 2, 2012
Nasa satellite image of a hurricane

Counting our blessings

It’s been an “oh sh*t” kind of week. During my parents’ 8-day visit, my father managed to step in sh*t, literally, no less than three times. The first time he was entertaining Oliver in the park across from Anna’s elementary school; the second time he was helping Samuel pee in a grassy spot near the pediatrician’s office; the third time he was racing Anna and Oliver on the streets of Kutná Hora.

Each time upon discovery, he sighed in exasperation and resignation. Before he climbed back into the car, he carefully wiped the bottoms of his brown leather lace-ups on the grassiest surface nearby. He then bagged the shoes with a spare grocery bag and threw them in the trunk. As he hobbled back to the car, sock-footed and mortified, the children collapsed into heaps of giggles and we adults bit back our own laughter. We rode holding our noses until we reached the house, where Dad began his methodical process of cleaning again.

First he cleaned the car’s carpet where he’d tracked stinky poop, then he cleaned his shoes properly. He was a good sport about the hassle, and by the third time, even he had to see a little humor in the situation. Whenever we recounted the story to Czech friends, they always said, “Tell your Dad he’s going to have good luck. Three times.” We all kept waiting for the luck to show up during his visit, but it never seemed to.

In addition to the inconvenient poop episodes, we had a few “”oh sh*t” scares of a more sobering nature. During our weekend trip to Šumava, Samuel managed to trip while running on the lodge terrace and fall chin-first into a concrete flowerpot. Two steps behind, I chastised myself for not slowing him down sooner, knowing that he was overtired and prone to disaster. But after getting three stitches at a regional medical center 30 km away, Samuel was raring to go again. I was a bit more cautious.

A few days later, I braked suddenly for a merging car while driving on the motorway around Prague and the car following us crashed into us. No one was injured and both cars were still drivable, but the incident required a police report and was emotional enough to be unpleasant. I counted our blessings when I realized how much worse it could have been, but I still didn’t feel particularly lucky.

The following day while hurriedly cutting a pumpkin for pumpkin soup, I sliced into my finger worse than I ever had before. Blood spurted and I panicked, scaring Oliver who’d been helping me with the soup. Dad came to the rescue with a calm head and ice cubes to stop the bleeding. He thought I needed a stitch, but the idea of driving somewhere with my whole entourage to get stitched up was particularly unappealing. He ended up using his go-to remedy of gluing my skin back together with regular Superglue. It worked; the glue formed a crusty scab and my finger stopped bleeding. Although typing my column without my left index finger has slowed me down a little and I still feel a weird numbness at the incision, I am definitely on the mend. Still, after the incident, I felt more unlucky than lucky.

Then came news of Hurricane Sandy. Television and online news sources were filled with reports of the impending tropical storm Sandy, which reached hurricane classification off the US eastern seaboard. Radek first read about the expected seriousness of the storm late Sunday evening. My parents had just left and were in the air somewhere between Prague and New York City. He debated about whether to tell me that night or wait till the morning. He told me, and I spent a few nervous hours wondering whether my parents would be able to land NY and if so, if they’d then make it out before the mass of flight cancellations that had been predicted.

From texting with my sister-in-law, I knew my parents had landed safely in NY, but I’d never gotten confirmation that they’d managed to catch their connecting flight. I went to sleep worrying about my parents’ flight and praying that the expected Hurricane Sandy wouldn’t wreck the destruction and devastation that had been forecast.

When I got a call from my mom at 6:30 a.m. Monday (2:30 a.m. EST) I listened with relief as my mom told me that she and my dad were about a 30 minute’s drive from their home in southwestern VA. They’d called because they were exhausted and had wanted to wake themselves up. They also figured we’d heard news of Sandy and wanted to reassure us that they were all right. They described the chaos and pandemonium at the airport. They were grateful their connecting flight to Charlotte, NC had been delayed long enough for them to catch it. They were heading home to ready themselves for the snow storm that was predicted to hit their mountainous region when the tropical storm moved inland.

On Tuesday I realized that Sandy had hit and the gruesome aftereffects of the natural disaster were every bit as disastrous as the news had predicted. As I began to read the BBC and CNN reports and watch the footage of the disaster, I felt a deep sadness. Along the east coast, particularly in the densely-populated mid-Atlantic states of NY and NJ and along the coastline as far south as NC, the storm had done severe damage. High winds and heavy rain had resulted in coastal flooding, widespread electrical outages and city-wide public transportation shutdowns. City schools and workplaces were closed and thousands upon thousands of people were without electricity long-term. I watched helicopter footage of the houses on the destroyed Jersey shoreline and then a news report about the emergency hospital evacuations in NY City when generators failed. As I read, I felt so helpless and so far away.

Then I picked up my kids from school. They had talked about the hurricane in school, even in Oliver’s preschool. They were full of questions: what exactly had happened; had people died; was anyone that we knew hurt or in danger? Anna wanted to know specifically what happened in New Jersey since that was the state where she was born and where some of our Prague friends had relocated. Then my mother-in-law texted to ask if my parents were all right; had they made it home safely; was their home in Virginia in the storm’s path?

For the remainder of the day, I fielded questions from friends, parents at the children’s schools and after-school activities. Everyone wanted to know if my family was all right and everyone wanted me to know how horrible the footage of the natural disaster was. They felt bad for America and they wanted me to relay their concern to people back home. A community surrounded me, and I didn’t feel so alone. Nor did I feel unlucky.

Before Sandy hit the East Coast, its tail had touched Haiti and the Dominican Republic, countries still in recovery from earlier natural disasters. After it hit the East Coast, it went inland and up into Canada. One news report said the storm had been a hundred year storm, other reports suggest climate changes are at hand and worse storms could follow. It will take years to put everything back into place and some things may never be the same again. No one counts on a natural disaster. It’s not something that you generally plan for or expect.

During their visit, my mom had casually mentioned that the tropical storm Sandy had been upgraded to hurricane status, but we hadn’t discussed the storm when we’d said our goodbyes. We’d talked about trick-or-treating for Halloween and our upcoming Christmas visit to the States. They’d left Prague in good spirits.

As America begins the massive undertaking of putting its coastline back together in the wake of the disaster, I’m grateful for family, friends and a few “oh sh*t” instances to put the minor inconveniences of life back into perspective.

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