Maybe it was the thought of eating canned goods for days that had me high-tail it well out of the range of Irene’s potential wrath. Maybe it was a base maternal instinct to do whatever it took to ensure the safety of my progeny. Maybe I wanted to avoid the assured nail-biting and nervousness of a city laying in wait of a storm. Whatever the reason, my husband and I escaped New York last Friday, throwing already-packed bags from our previous week’s vacation into the car and heading West to my mother’s in Chicago.
It was the subject of much of the near-constant conversation during the 15-or-so-hour drive: why we weren’t interested in sticking around with our boys wondering what high winds and torrential downpours could wreak on our Park Slope apartment, or on the little house with big windows facing out onto a wetlands and the bay beyond that we’d rented out on Long Island.
Were we wimps, wusses, disloyal to our city, a major disappointment to our friends and neighbors, or were we smart, savvy, brilliant to be saving our children, at the very least, from the fear that was surely to accompany our preparations for natural disaster?
The boys sat happily in the backseat watching Season Eight of “The Simpsons,” laughing intermittently as our wheels turned and we weaved our way through the Poconos. I expected the roads to be full with others trying to escape, but they weren’t. Hmmm. What did that mean? It was a metaphor, really, our retreat, for parenting decisions writ large: what other people do for their families really has no bearing on what we ourselves decide to do. And, of course, as with decisions about storms, we cannot even pretend to guess at the direction or force of with any accuracy, parenting can really only be judged in hindsight.
Whether our children would have been better served if my husband and I eschewed our concerns about Irene doesn’t matter now. What’s done is done.
At the Ohio rest stop on our return on Sunday, waiting for our Starbucks, my husband offered up with a smile that one of his co-workers said we’d done the right thing.
I laughed. “I don’t think there is a ‘right’ and ‘wrong,’ ” I said. “And I’m glad it turned out that there wasn’t really a ‘right’ thing, that our decision wasn’t vindicated by the storm having been terrible.”
It’s funny because some people were surprised by my decision to depart (after all, the name of this column is “Fearless Parenting”). I have long been disappointed in the actions of so many of those in my chosen profession to impart unnecessary fear and panic among people so as to sell them on the need for such information and, of course, on the products and services they might purchase to allay their fear and panic.
But it was with the same skepticism of a long-time journalist that I paid attention to all the information at my disposal to make my decision on what to do for my family.
First off, I watched the birds from our deck. The crows cried out from the tree (which, by the way, was knocked down by the storm). Other birds flew out into the wind and back again in seeming practice. Internet research showed birds need to relax during a storm, relying on their instincts to be able to grip on to something if need be.
I took this advice on the necessity of relaxing and realized I wouldn’t easily relax in the face of high winds together with big windows and tall trees. I would, of course, have to pretend to be relaxed in front of my children so as not to alarm them, and I hate pretending.
The nail in the coffin was the dire predictions of a salty old ice-cream store owner who was sticking it out with a generator at hand to save his frozen livelihood.
“This one’s going to be bad, ’cause it’s hitting at high tide,” he said. “You’re smart to get out of Dodge with the kids.”
I’m from Arizona, and don’t know from tides. I leave that to the native Easterners who surround me. What I should do, it seemed clear, was to listen, and get out of Dodge, which I did.
As it turns out, I slept less well in Chicago than my friends in Brooklyn and Long Island who felt firsthand the reality of the storm’s relatively light lashings rather than having to rely as I did on over-hyped headlines with words like “gush” and “slam.”
Would I make the same decision again? We had a great time in Chicago, enjoyed the blue sky and the waves of Lake Michigan. The dangers of highway driving probably proved more likely to cause injury than the weather in New York, but, in the words of one city official responding to complaints that the mayor had over-reacted, “Better safe than sorry.”
Those words basically describe how I felt — safe, yes, but also a little sorry.