Last night, Kensie and I had our first “tornado scare” as Kansans. Being from Alabama, I’ve seen my fair share of tornadic activity. I sat with my dad in my parent’s basement, my daughter asleep under the stairs with her bike helmet on, with tornados all around us during the 2011 storm that devastated Tuscaloosa and parts of Birmingham. I remember seeing the sky turn a hazy green color from my dorm room window my first year at KU and being the first resident to make it into the basement. A tornado touched down on campus that day. But for some reason, sitting in the state of Kansas, only myself and my 5-year-old, with strong storms spawning twisters headed right toward us, my fears were amplified tenfold.
A few weeks ago, Kensie came home from school and began asking me questions about tornados. “Can they pull a person up into the clouds?” “Can they knock our house down?” “Can they suck us out of the basement?” “Will our dogs be safe?” “Are there spiders and bugs in the basement?” I answered her questions as honestly as I could without frightening her. Then, for the next few nights at bedtime, she said she was scared and slept in my bed. This behavior lasted a few nights then finally fizzled. Turns out, they’d been studying tornados at school at the time and had been practicing tornado safety drills.
So last night, with strong storms headed our way, I knew I had to stay cool and make sure Kensie didn’t learn the severity of the situation. So I turned on the TV around dinnertime to keep things as normal as possible and to stay informed on the weather. When Kensie left the room, I quickly switched it to the news to see how things were shaping up; and when she came back into the room, I flipped back to HGTV. A pretty normal night around here, minus forgetting that even though she’s not in the room, my kid’s ears are always perked. All of a sudden, K ran into the room and shouted, “Tornado!?!” The jig was up.
The next couple of hours were spent explaining every single noise she heard from the outside while also trying to prepare for the possibility that we might have to head down into the basement. K wouldn’t let me leave her side, but when she finally closed her tired eyes for a few minutes, I jumped up to get things ready. I moved the butcher block in the kitchen a few feet so we could access the basement stairs, which are located under a panel in the kitchen floor. I pulled out the lanterns and flashlights, and set them on the butcher block. I got water and snacks ready. I placed Kensie’s helmet, blankets, jackets and toe-covered shoes where they were easily accessible.
With all this preparation, I was starting to freak myself out a little bit. What if I fall asleep and don’t hear the sirens? How will I get my dogs (one blind and deaf, the other with an injured leg) down the steep stairs into the basement? What if our house gets hit and we get stuck in the basement? What if there are creepy bugs down there? Of course, it wasn’t long before Kensie was awake and screaming for me to come back and sit with her.
For a couple of hours last night, things were pretty hairy in this house. But finally, the warnings were cancelled, and the word “tornado” turned into the word “thunderstorm.” At this point, I was able to explain the difference between being scared and being prepared, and Kensie understood why the kitchen was suddenly rearranged and littered with all of our camping gear, out again and ready for use.
As the evening finally wound down, my daughter proceeded to talk my head off until well past her bedtime. “Mommy, after this week, I’ll be a first-grader!” “Mommy, what do you think I should do for my birthday party?” “Mommy, when do my swimming lessons start?” “Mommy, how many times do you think I can hop on one foot?” Pointing at our Pug Shakespeare, “Good rip, potato chip!” But for once, I didn’t want to toss her out the window to quiet her. I just sat there, sipped my wine, and listened.