I’ve always felt that if my kids don’t notice a crisis going on outside our cocoon, then I’ve done my job.
In the past, I tried to protect my kids from the emotional devastation that I fear will weigh them down the rest of their lives.
On 9-11, while my visiting mother-in-law was holed up with the TV, watching the news and the tape of the planes hitting over and over, I hung with my then-little girls, keeping them from seeing those images and being exposed to the tremendous fear and pain flooding the city.
I still feel that one of my great successes as a father is that they have only a vague of memory from that day, and seem to have dodged some of the emotional scarring of other children.
So as Hurricane Sandy bore down on Brooklyn, I prepared by sending my teenagers out for videos and groceries so we’d be ready for a few days caged up at home together.
When the storm arrived, we baked, played games, made the dog do silly tricks, and watched too much television as I discretely kept an eye on the basement for flooding and the movement of the trees just outside our windows.
But the reality of the storm became apparent — friends were fleeing flooded homes or searching for a place to stay with electricity and working toilets — and I started doubting my style of emotional disaster control.
It’s clear to me that my girls are old enough to have perspective, to see the suffering of others and damage to the world around them without becoming quivering piles of fear.
Today, at 14 and 17, they should be able to handle seeing images of the horrible fire in Breezy Point or the devastating flooding in Red Hook and DUMBO. They should be able to feel for the people impacted, friends and strangers without services and basic necessities.
So I took a risk and marched them out Monday night at high tide. We witnessed with amazement the waters pouring over Fulton Ferry and the surrounding, submerged streets. We looked across the East River at the eerie darkness of lower Manhattan, black except for the flashing lights of the police and fire fighters. We went home and watched the news. The next day, we talked about the repercussions of the event.
They weren’t captives to the storm’s devastation but I didn’t shield them from it either.
By Halloween they were delighted to have freedom once again, to roam around the neighborhood and see kids they know. But they were home early, glad to have been out but subdued.
I think they felt the aftereffects of the storm, understanding there were so many who didn’t get to trick-or-treat that night. I hope they understanding how lucky they were this time.
But mostly, I think they now understand a much more complicated fact: bad things happen, and life goes on.
So much for that cocoon.
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