Photo: Taken by Catherine Cachia
As my two boys, ages three-and-a-half and one-and-a-half, happily watch Paw Patrol, my husband and I are having an urgently whispered conversation about evacuating or staying. We live in West Palm Beach and are currently in the red cone of Hurricane Irma; at the moment Irma is barrelling through the islands south of us, and is on its way to potentially decimating much of our area after tearing through the Florida Keys and Miami.
This morning my husband Darren was hell bent on leaving. Credit that to one part reality setting in, and one part panicked phone calls and texts from family overnight begging us to get out of the way any way we can. Flights have been sold out since Tuesday or Wednesday and are now being cancelled, so our only option for leaving would be to join the caravan of thousands on the packed highway north to… who knows? Jacksonville? Tallahassee? Dallas?
But I’ve heard through the Facebook Palm Beach Mom groups that not only is the hurricane tracking north, but the highways are jam packed and moving at a snail’s pace, and people are running out of gas and need rescue trucks to come pick them up. The Governor of Florida issued an emergency number for this issue alone. How that would work with two kids under 4 in tow, I don’t want to find out. So we decide to stay. Whether it’s a good or bad decision in the long run, we don’t yet know — and won’t until it’s all over.
The fact is, no one knows exactly where Irma will hit, so we’re all just running blind, basing decisions on some facts, probably some fiction, and a lot of gut instinct. Everyone is looking out for their own family, first and foremost.
Yet at the same time, the sense of community we’ve experienced since the hurricane watch began has been incredible. Neighbours we’ve never spoken to are exchanging numbers in case of emergency. A woman I met for the first time last week at a kids’ play place was fleeing to Jacksonville alone with her two kids last night, so we offered up our spare room for them. Our close friends here have offered their place to us should our power go out and theirs remains. We reciprocated. The old adage “strength in numbers” seems silly given what we’re up against a literal force of nature, yet we’re finding there truly is strength in numbers, even if it’s just emotional strength.
As for the well-meaning question I’m getting most from nearly every friend and family member, “How you holding up?” The answer is, not great.
Truth be told, this Canadian girl in South Florida is terrified, and I’ve had a few near breakdowns. At one point I simply had to get away from the chaos of the two boys at home so I left them with my husband and drove around searching for gas, only to find nothing. In tears, I called my mom, and she managed to be the rock I always need, telling me to be calm and strong for the kids.
So I’m holding it together as best I can. I know my anxiety will rub off on them, so I just can’t let it get the better of me. I’m trying to remember how lucky we are to have a strong roof over our heads and sturdy walls around us. We’ve put hurricane shutters on the windows and got to the stores in time—the shelves are ghost-town empty now—to stock our shelves with dried treats and goodies the kids don’t normally get.
We’ve bought a couple of new foam footballs for them to roughhouse with. We’re going to build a pillow fort in our pantry, the only windowless part of our house where we’ll hide out when the worst hits. (Florida homes don’t have basements, after all.) We’ve invested in two kids’ Kindle Fires stocked to the gills with downloaded games and shows and books. We’re trying to make this fun for them. Our hope is they remember this as the super cool weekend of 2017, not a devastating hurricane that they survived, terrified. As far as they know, a storm is coming through but it’s going to be cool because we all get to camp out together and listen to the whirling wind. If all goes well, we’ll leave the worrying up to us, and let the kids just be kids.